Healthier Options For Our Kids – Why Aren’t We Choosing Them?

Most of today’s families find themselves constantly busy, juggling work, home, and the kids’ school and extracurricular activities.

We often return home late in the evening, tired and looking for quick and easy options for dinner.

For many of us, that includes a trip through the fast-food drive-through, and studies have found that we may not be making the best choices we can for our children.

In recent years, fast-food establishments have introduced healthier options for customers, from salads and lean meats, to fruit and yogurt in kids’ meals.

But according to recent research, when we visit a fast-food restaurant, we’re not usually choosing these options for ourselves or our children.

In recent years, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in partnership with other agencies and groups looking to improve the nutrition of our children, set forth new guidelines for restaurants and schools.

Among these new regulations are that calorie counts must be listed on menus in restaurants with more than 20 locations and healthier choices must be offered as an alternative to unhealthy items at fast-food chains and in public schools.

The FDA made note that more than 40 percent of Americans are not just overweight, but obese.

Some of these changes were implemented with former President Obama’s Affordable Care Act and advocacy for changes in school lunch options in the public education system.

The bottom line is that government agencies and health care companies want to work to make us healthier – and save themselves money.

But in the long run, it is our job as parents to model good behavior and help guide our children to make good decisions about their health.

So now that fast food chains like McDonald’s are offering options like fruit and yogurt with kids’ meals, why aren’t parents ordering them?

The Rudd Center released the results of a study that found that most of us purchase a fast-food meal for our children at least once a week, but that only about a quarter of us choose healthy options like fruit over “traditional” sides like french fries.

Beverages fared a little better, with around 59 percent of parents opting for milk or juice instead of a soda, but therein lies another problem.

The sugar content in chocolate milk, juice, or even yogurt being offered as options may be almost as high as the soda.

The study also found that employees of fast-food chains are often defaulting to soda and fries with a kid’s meal instead of making a point to offer every parent a healthier option.

According to CBS News, Nina Crowley, Ph.D., a registered dietitian nutritionist and health psychologist, said we still need to “move the patterned eating behaviors of kids in a better direction.”

“We know from the greater body of literature on choices, that to ‘nudge’ someone towards something healthier, making them ‘opt out’ is more difficult, and they often stick with the default,” she stated.

Some chains are making changes, but it may not be enough.

McDonald’s, for example, makes parents specifically ask for soda over milk or juice, and temporarily removed their chocolate milk from the menu earlier this year until they could replace it with a lower-sugar option.

But they are also one of the chains that promised to completely remove soda as an option in kids’ meals and has yet to do so.

Nutritionists who have weighed in on why parents aren’t taking advantage of the changes offer a few reasons.

Many parents will typically choose healthier options for younger kids, 2-6, but not for older children who they say prefer the fries and soda.

Another belief is that parents allow their kids to have the unhealthy choices because a fast-food meal is a rare treat, but childhood obesity numbers seem to say that our children are eating poorly far more often than once in a while.

And some of it stems from what we expect, and are used to, from fast-food chains – and, of course, their marketing techniques.

“Fast-food restaurants smell like french fries, they have soda logos and photos of burgers and desserts. It’s not easy to select the healthier option,” said Jennifer Harris, the lead author of the Rudd Center study, according to NBC News.

Soda and french fries are far cheaper for these chains to sell than milk, fruit, and yogurt.

And, of course, it always seems like that’s the case with our food options.  Healthy foods are far more expensive than sugary and fried foods — and when profits are on the line, restaurants may not be pushing too hard for us to choose something better.

Another researcher said, “We need to stop pushing what’s the norm in this country, that soda and fries are the meal for kids. Healthy options need to be the default.  It helps support parents to make healthy choices for their kids,” according to NBC.

The bottom line is that parents are the soldiers on the frontlines of this battle.

Fast-food meals should be served sparingly, as a special treat.  Parents can also let their children know that a fast food “meal” is not an adequate lunch or dinner and should be eaten in moderation, just like candy or desserts.

Fast-food chains know what most Americans crave – fattening, salty, and sugary foods – and they will continue to peddle these products over healthier options.

Convenience often wins out when we are tired and rushed after a long day, and despite the changes made by restaurant chains, the responsibility for teaching good eating habits lies with us.

Do you think fast food chains should make more changes to their menus, or do you think the ultimate responsibility lies with us as parents?  Leave us your thoughts.

 

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