How To Set Limits on Fast Food

Burger, fries, and a drink

By Jenny Kinne, MSRD, LDN, Clinical Nutrition Specialist
One Step Ahead, Children’s Hospital Boston

“I want McDonald’s!”
“Can we stop at Dunkin’s?”
“But I don’t want your chicken! I want KFC!”

As a parent, it can seem like you are saying “NO!” all the time. With everyone keeping an eye on their budgets these days, fast food can seem like a cheap and easy thing you can say yes to. But, while fast food may seem like a quick fix, it can have a serious impact on our health. With the extra, empty calories of fast food, its low nutritional value, and high levels of sodium, cholesterol, and trans fats – fast food needs to be a once in a while treat.

In my work with children and families, I recommend that parents limit fast food to once a week or less.

We want what is best for our kids – and that includes a healthy and well-balanced diet. Saying no and setting limits can be hard. Here are some tips for making it easier:

  • Tell your child up front that you are starting a new house rule – fast food only once a week. And stick to it! Over time, your child will learn that fast food should be eaten only once in a while.
  • Skip the soda. Serve low fat milk or water instead.
  • Encourage your child to make healthier choices at fast food restaurants. Here is a fact sheet that provides better, healthier options at places like McDonald’s, Burger King, and Dunkin’ Donuts.
  • Limit the use of condiments. Mustard, ketchup, and relish are healthier options than mayonnaise-based condiments. Choose clear salad dressings such as balsamic vinaigrette or Italian instead of creamy and heavy ranch dressings.
  • Watch the portions. Children do not need super-sized meals. Stick with happy meals and kid-sized or single-sized portions, and save your child hundreds of calories. Smaller is better!
  • Plan in advance. Often we eat at fast food restaurants because we need to grab a bite on the run. Having snacks like celery sticks, pretzels, or nuts on hand can help tide you over until dinner.
  • Be a role model. Stick to the same rules for yourself that you’ve created for your children. They’ll understand how important the rule is, and it’ll help keep you in better health, too!
  • Cook kid-friendly “fast food” at home. Limiting fast food outings does not mean giving up cheeseburgers for good. You can cook your child’s favorite fast food meal at home – it will be healthier, and tastier, too!

Here are some kid-friendly “fast food” options that are sure to please even the pickiest eaters in your family!

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