Many on-the-go families may feel like marathon runners as they move through their busy schedules. With work and school demands, family commitments, evening activities-and only 24 hours in a day-it seems that parents and children remain in near-perpetual motion.
In an ideal world, everyone would slow down and come together for meals. It's a great time for families to check in with each other and it helps parents monitor what their children eat. But, sometimes, busy families have to eat on the run. So, how can you help your family eat healthfully on the fly?
Rise of a "Fast Food Nation"
Since the invention of the first drive-through window in the 1940s, Americans have been eating on the go. Fast food restaurants are among our country's most popular places to eat because of their convenience, low prices, and quick service. On any given day in the United States about one-quarter of the adult population visits a fast food restaurant.1
The typical American consumes approximately three hamburgers and four orders of French fries every week!2
Many fast food places now offer healthy items like salads, fresh fruit, and baked potatoes. Despite this growing trend, most fast food meals still tend to be high in calories, sodium, and fat, and they often lack important vitamins and minerals. Too much fast food can lead to weight gain, putting you at risk for health problems-especially heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer.3
Food and Family Time
Eating on the go also can mean that families lose important, focused time with each other. Family mealtimes give everyone a chance to share ideas and "what's happening." What a great way for a parent to be involved, discuss rules, and monitor activities and friends while being a good role model. If everyone eats in the car on the way to a soccer game or martial arts class, it's harder to have a meaningful conversation!
Finding Balance in Your Family's Diet and Schedule
As moms and dads know, parenting takes creativity and compromise. Healthy eating on the fly is all about finding balance for your family-in their diet and in the way you eat meals.
How can I help my family eat healthfully when we eat out?
Keep portion sizes small. For example, order a regular hamburger and small fries, instead of a double or triple cheeseburger and extra large fries.
Share portions. Many meals are large, so don't hesitate to order one dinner and split it. It's not about the cost. It's about the portion size!
Ask that high-fat sauces and condiments, such as salad dressing and mayonnaise, be "on the side" and use them sparingly.
Say "no" to high-calorie juices and sodas. Look for healthier options like fat-free or low-fat milk, water, or low-calorie juices and sodas.
How can I make time for family mealtime?
Routinely eat together at home. Mark the days and meals on your family's calendar and stick to them!
Look for local picnic options. Many indoor and outdoor parks and recreation facilities have picnic areas where your family could sit down for a quick dinner before or after your kids' activities. Packing your own dinner saves money, too!
When you eat out, try to avoid the drive-through window. Go in and sit down at a table together.
Instead of eating out, pack your own meals and snacks. You'll save money and help your kids eat healthy foods. Try these smart snack ideas:
Unsalted pretzels and unbuttered and unsalted popcorn (It might take time to adjust to the taste, but the health benefits make it worthwhile!)
Low-fat yogurt with fruit
Broccoli, carrots, or cherry tomatoes with low-fat dip or yogurt
Apple slices with peanut butter
Low- or reduced-fat string cheese
Baked whole-grain tortilla chips with salsa
Whole-grain cereal with low-fat milk
Source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Healthier Eating.
Moderation Is Key
Eating out can be fun for parents and kids. Moms and dads enjoy getting a break from cooking and it is fun for the whole family to go out together. The key is to dine at fast food places in moderation. Plan ahead and limit the number of times your family grabs a burger and fries each week. If you have to eat out, look for healthy food options!
Families can eat out without sacrificing good nutrition and without sacrificing important time together. Mealtime is a chance for parents and kids to talk with one another. Even if you're on the go, make sure that you set aside time to check in with your child about what's going on in his life. Get creative with your family schedule and look for ways that all of you can be together and eat healthfully, even on the fly.
If you had all the money that Americans spend on fast food, what would you do with it?