Even though we all know the unhealthful truth about fast food, there are still many irresistible reasons why we continue to show up at the drive thru window.  When you’re nearing dinnertime with hungry kids and limited time and money, the convenience of picking up fast food on the way home from work or school is undeniable.  Besides, most chains are offering healthier options now.  With choices like grilled chicken, apple slices and milk on the menu, how bad could fast food restaurants be?

While it’s great that healthy additions have been added to many fast food menus, research from the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity indicates that children who eat at fast food chains are still getting too much sugar, sodium and saturated fat in one sitting.  Healthful options are seemingly not replacing unhealthy ones, but more commonly being added alongside the fries, burger or deep fried chicken nuggets.  With flavor-enhancing additives, the promise of a kid’s meal toy and soda offered as the main beverage of choice, it’s no wonder that most fast food habits start at a very young age.  Fast food is fun, tasty and crave-worthy, especially for children who don’t understand the consequences of an unhealthy diet.

And, just in case we’ve all forgotten, here’s a quick reminder of what some of those consequences may be:

  • Fast food doesn’t contain adequate amounts of protein and healthy carbs, opting for fillers and high levels of sugar and/or fat.  Eating this kind of food can cause a sudden drop in blood sugar levels after consumption, leading to sugar cravings, fatigue and an overall lack of energy.
  • Overall lack of energy coupled with the high caloric content of fast food increases the risk of weight gain and obesity.
  • Fast food contains high levels of fat and sodium which can contribute to chronic health conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.

The real issue, however, may not be that we’re unaware of how bad fast food is for our children.  It may be that we’re not sure how to break the fast food habit—for our families and ourselves. As with any bad habit, a lifestyle change is in order.  But, how do we approach the situation in a way that’s effectively going to lift us from the fast food rut?


Better Meal Planning

If it’s the convenience factor of fast food that you can’t resist, planning out your family’s meals for the week may be a good start to better managing dinner time.  Start with simple home-cooked meals that don’t take a ton of time to whip up like spaghetti with a side of steamed vegetables or baked chicken with rice.  Is there a night that is particularly busy during the week?  Rotisserie chicken from the grocery store or pre-made salads or sandwiches from a local deli are healthier options with the same amount of convenience.  Planning your meals for the week gives you the opportunity to assess your schedule and prep your meals accordingly.

Better Choices at the Fast Food Counter

Can’t quit cold turkey?  If fast food is a regular part of your diet, it may be really difficult to turn your back and walk away.  In that case, try changing your eating habits when it comes to fast food.  Instead of just adding a healthy item to your child’s meal, replace an unhealthy item.  A burger with apple slices will do little to improve the quality of the meal if it comes with a side of fries.  Order items a la carte instead of choosing a combo meal that automatically adds soda or a dessert item.

Drink More Water

While we’re on the topic of soda consumption, water is always a better option to sweetened drinks.  Not only does it save you and your child the calories and sugar when dining out (fast food restaurant or otherwise), but it also helps to rid the body of toxins and curb junk food and sugar cravings.

You may soon realize that, when a healthier diet is put into effect, it’s worth the extra time and planning to make better choices for yourself and your family.  Proper nutritional choices are as easy to teach at a young age as fast food habits.

What have you done to successfully break the fast food habit in your home?

Sara Peronto is the Marketing Manager at Penfield Children’s Center and Editor of PenfieldBuildingBlocks.org.

“Breaking the Fast Food Habit.” Fit Journey. Web. 2 December 2013. < http://fit-journey.com/nutrition/breaking-the-fast-food-habit>.

“Fast Food F.A.C.T.S. : Food Advertising to Children and Teen Score.” Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity: A Program for the Institution for Social and Policy Studies. Rudd Center. 5 November 2013. Web. 2 December 2013.

< http://yaleruddcenter.org/fast-food-facts-2013-fast-food-companies-still-target-kids-with-marketing-for-unhealthy-products>.

“Fast Food Nutrition: Junk Food’s Effect on Your Body.” FitDay. Web. 2 December 2013.

< http://www.fitday.com/fitness-articles/nutrition/healthy-eating/fast-food-nutrition-junk-foods-effect-on-your-body.html>.

“So This is Why Children Are Craving That Fast Food Burger.” Huff Post Healthy Living. The Huffington Post.com. 5 November 2013. Web. 2 December 2013. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/05/craving-taco-bell_n_4212560.html>.

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