Choosing Smart Fast Food

Pizza, chicken nuggets, hot dogs, SpaghettiOs, French fries, milk shakes —the foods American children love to eat and American parents hate to admit feeding them. But what can you do when you have only 30 minutes between picking up that last child from soccer practice and delivering the next child to ballet? Let’s face it, convenience foods and fast foods are here to stay.

The good news is that not all fast foods and convenience foods are created equal. When looking to choose smart kid food, a good place to start is the book Eat This Not That! For Kids by David Zinczenko.

The book is one in a series of “Eat This Not That” books focusing on which food choices are healthiest in restaurant chains and grocery store aisles. Jam packed with useful information, the book offers facts about the dangers of childhood obesity (Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular risk), great games to get kids off the couch, tips for decoding menus and reading labels, and kid-pleasing home-cooked meal ideas.

Zinczenko gives restaurants a “Report Card” grade based on the overall quality of their menu. A quick flip through the book reveals that Chick-fil-A is at the head of the class, providing healthy food for kids and adults. “With every single sandwich below 500 calories, a variety of healthy sides such as fresh fruit…and nutritional brochures readily available for perusing at each location, Chick-fil-A earns the award for America’s Healthiest Chain Restaurant for Kids,” Zinczenko writes. Wendy’s and Subway come in second, both earning A- marks. Jamba Juice earns the only B+, while Panera and Arbys earn a solid B along with (surprise!) McDonalds and KFC.

From there it’s pretty much downhill, with most other common chains in the Tulsa area earning Cs and Ds. Fs are awarded to those restaurants who refuse to release their nutritional information, such as Outback, IHOP and TGI Fridays.

The grade a restaurant earns should not be mistaken for endorsement or condemnation of every menu item. At 660 calories and 27 grams of fat, a Chick-fil-A milkshake is still a diet buster; while On The Border, graded a D-, offers kids a grilled chicken entrée with black beans and sautéed veggies that is as nutritious as it is calorie wise.

The food information offered in this book is guaranteed to surprise. It’s always a safe bet to order salad, right? Not if that salad comes from On the Border. According to Zinczenko, the average number of calories in an On the Border salad without dressing is 900! Think turkey should always be chosen over beef? At Quizno’s the Roadhouse Steak Sammie has only 4 grams of fat, while the Sonoma Turkey Flatbread Sammie with its cheese and mayo, carries a surprising 18 grams of fat. The information provided in the book proves that fat, calories and truckloads of sodium can be hidden in seemingly innocent menu options.

One of the things I like best about this book is its bright format. Each colorful page bursts with interesting photos of food and easy-to-decipher fat and calorie information. It’s a book that absolutely begs to be picked up. Leave this book lying around and you may find your children nagging you to, “Eat this, not that, Mom!”

Categories: Food