A few generations ago, most meals were cooked and eaten at home. Outings to restaurants were reserved for special occasions and snarfing down a meal in the car was almost unheard of. Today, however, most of us find ourselves short on time and tempted to grab whatever is easy and call it dinner. Choosing healthy foods -- even on the go -- isn't all that hard to do, but it does require a bit of thought.
- Pack some snacks: When running errands, it's all too easy to grab snacks from a drive-through window, but by keeping some healthy alternatives close at hand, the temptation to fill up on greasy foods will lessen. Whole-grain crackers or pretzels, fresh fruit, cut-up veggies, or snack packs of granola and dried fruit are all better choices than huge orders of fries, and most kids will happily eat these.
- Drink smart: Regular soda is filled with empty calories and the diet versions aren't a much better alternative. Plain water is the best choice for keeping hydrated and staving off hunger. Often, people reach for food when all that they really needed was water. Keeping a bottle filled with fresh water for sipping can help keep you full and satisfied without resorting to unhealthy (and expensive!) beverages.
- Choose wisely at restaurants: Since restaurant meals are a regular event for many people, it is important to choose healthy foods when dining out. Avoid fried foods, opting instead for broiled or baked selections. Also, starting a meal with a simple broth-based soup can help curb hunger, making it easier to eat light. The selections designated specifically for kids are often the poorest from a nutritional standpoint, so ask for a half-portion of a regular meal for children.
- Be selective at the salad bar: Salad bars usually offer some healthy selections, but most are loaded with poor choices, too. Fresh fruits and vegetables are terrific, but cheeses, deli-type salad mixes, and creamy salad dressings can quickly turn a healthy salad into a fat- and sugar-laden nightmare.
- Beware the bread basket: While whole grain breads are nutritious and filling, many restaurant bread baskets are brimming with white bread rolls, a much less healthful alternative. At most restaurants, it's smart to avoid the bread basket altogether, especially for children, who are likely to fill up on bread long before their meal arrives.
- Order a colorful plate: In general, fruits and vegetables with a deep rich color are the most healthful. Sweet potatoes are nutritionally superior to white potatoes, so substitute them when you can. Look for spinach, broccoli, beets, and colorful berries when choosing from the menu.
- Skip the extras: Gravy, creamy sauces, and pats of butter all add considerable fat and calories to a meal. When possible, order simple foods without a lot of added extras. If you want dessert, choose fresh fruit or a small dish of sorbet.
- Exercise control at fast food places: While the triple-decker bacon cheeseburger may seem appealing, it is loaded with unhealthy fats. A grilled chicken sandwich is a better choice, especially if you avoid creamy dressing and can order a whole-grain bun. Teamed with a side salad, the sandwich can make a filling and reasonably healthful fast food meal. Substitute skim or low-fat milk for soda. A number of fast food chains now offer fruit cups or low-fat yogurt, which can satisfy a sweet tooth in a healthful way.
- Pack a cooler for road trips: Traveling by car often means fast food meals and snacks purchased at mini-marts. Packing a cooler with fresh fruit, gelatin snacks, bottled water, nuts, and dried fruits can help limit the number of meals that you eat at hamburger joints. Additionally, stopping frequently for roadside picnics gives all family members a chance to stretch their legs and burn off a little pent-up energy!
Eating in restaurants or on the road doesn't have to mean living on hamburgers, pizza, and fried chicken. With a little planning and the desire to choose a healthy diet, busy families can eat on the run without endangering their health.