Healthy Menus, Healthy Venues

Eating out with kids

Eating out with children can be a great pleasure, but it can also be an awful pain. Dining out together is an opportunity to share some special family time, enjoy new food experiences and celebrate something special. It’s also a great opportunity to give mum and dad a night off from the cooking. But on the other hand, children often play up, service can be painfully slow and food options are often limited and mostly unhealthy.

Sadly, the vast majority of cafes, restaurants and entertainment venues (swimming pools, bowling alleys, recreation centres, party venues, etc) offer children mainly high fat, energy dense, nutrient poor food options. Some New Zealand schools have banned such foods because they are considered too unhealthy. So why are they still being offered as acceptable meals for children when dining out?

School holidays

While there is nothing wrong with children eating pizza or fish and chips every now and again, you need to take care what children are eating at times like school holidays when families and whānau are more likely to be out and about trying to keep children active and happy. When you are out of your normal routine and eating out more it is important to look for healthy options. Next time you are eating out pay attention to the food choices available for your children and if you are not happy make a point of requesting healthier options.

Kids’ meals at restaurants and cafes

Families are often attracted to restaurants that offer kids menus (e.g. Chicken Nuggets and Chips) because they know their children will eat them. Although an increasing number of restaurants are offering healthier kids options, they remain the minority.

Here are some tips to assist you in obtaining more nutritious options for your children next time you are eating at a restaurant or cafe: 

  • Help your children with their menu selection and steer them towards the more nutritious options 
  • Split a regular size healthy meal between children 
  • Choose meals that include vegetables or ask for a side of steamed vegetables or salad. 
  • If you are not happy with the options on the kids' menu, ask the chef to make them more nutritious. Ask for:
  • Wholegrain bread instead of white
  • Grilled meat instead of fried
  • Tomato based pasta sauce instead of creamy
  • Mashed potato instead of chips
  • Low fat milk instead of full fat. 
  • Don't forget to be a good role model and order healthy food for yourself too!

Kids’ options at entertainment and sports venues

Restaurants at sports and entertainment centres often have very limited healthy options for children. Many will not allow families to bring their own food. Remember, if you are not happy with the food options available, make a point of requesting healthier ones.

Here are some additional tips to help you when you are next out and about: 

  • Avoid meal deals and super size orders, they are usually high in energy and low is useful nutrients.
  • Take your own healthy snacks with you if you think there will be nothing healthy on the menu 
  • Take your own snacks to the movies instead of buying big packs of lollies or chips 
  • Choose birthday party venues that let you take your own food.
  • And remember that water is the best thirst quencher, so avoid sugary soft drinks.

Do you have other tips for healthy eating away from home?

If you have a great idea for eating out healthily with children, email us at parentsvoice@rocketmail.com and we'll include it on our website.

Advocacy resources

If you aren’t happy about the food in your local restaurants, entertainment venues or cinemas, write a letter requesting healthier options. 

Here are some templates to assist (click to download the documents):