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Fast Food and Full-Service: The Truth About Restaurants

No matter where children dine out, they may still end up getting an unhealthy meal.

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girl at a restaurant

No surprise here: Kids consume more sugary drinks and calories when they feast on fast food (126 additional calories for children and 309 calories for adolescents, according to a new study). But here’s a key finding: Eating outside the home in general can put children at risk for unhealthy consumption. So if you’re avoiding fast food when you dine out, don’t assume you’re in the clear.

MORE: The Restaurant May Give YOU More Food than They Intended  

When children and adolescents ate at full-service restaurants versus home, they had more sugar, saturated fat and sodium. Surprisingly, the calorie consumption was higher for children eating at full-service restaurants rather than fast food restaurants! Why? Simple—the chefs want to show you love—and they do that with bigger than intended portions.

Even if you’re not ordering greasy, fried foods, portion sizes may be sabotaging your diet. Thousands of restaurant-goers superseded the daily intake of essential nutrients such as protein.

Establishments rarely serve up plates that look like the portions on the U.S.D.A. MyPlate. If you’re out, box up what’s in excess. If that shorts you, supplement your meal with the right sides—usually, more fruits and vegetables! Here’s an easy way to visualize what a healthy plate looks like.

COLUMN: Dr. Oz & Dr. Roizen on How to Read Yourself Slim

  • PROTEIN- A serving of peanut butter is 2 tablespoons or one ping pong ball. (If the kid’s PB & J sandwich is oozing out the sides, chances are the restaurant’s chefs are being too generous—we are no longer a calorie-short society.) A serving of meat is 2-3 oz, or the size of a deck of cards. Ask for a lean cut (no packaged meats please) or only cook meat at home to ensure it’s not so fatty, and is grass-fed, organic and free-range. 
  • DAIRY- Keep it to a cup at each meal and opt for no-fat versions of yogurt and milk.
  • GRAINS- A slice of bread is actually the size of a computer disk. Make it 100-percent whole-grain for pasta, too. A serving of pasta and (brown!—not just brown colored) rice is a half of cup, or the size of a light bulb.
  • SWEETS- Top your salad with at most 2 tablespoons of no sugar added dressing (ping pong ball, remember?). As for a butter topping, forget it, and don’t let ‘em serve it mindlessly to your kids.  Must do mayonnaise on that sandwich? Just one tablespoon or the size of a poker chip. All bets are off if you do more!
  • FRUITS & VEGETABLES- Feel free to fill half of your plate with colorful fruits and vegetables. It’s not about restricting yourself or your children, but making sure you’re getting enough of the right nutrients (you know, the beauty-boosting kind).

MORE: Sneak in More Vegetables 

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