Fast Food Calorie Counts Lead Parents to Better Choices

Filed under: In The News, Research Reveals: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Research Reveals: Big Kids


Good news for moms and dads in the fight against childhood obesity: It turns out when calories are listed in fast food places, parents make better choices, according to a recent study.

When calorie information about menu items is listed, parents will chose roughly 100 fewer calories for their child's meal, according to a story published in BusinessWeek. The story based its conclusion on a study published in Pediatrics and done in conjunction with fast food giant McDonald's.

Currently, menu labeling is done only in certain cities and states, Vanessa Cavallaro, a registered dietitian and president of the Massachusetts Dietetic Association tells ParentDish.

"I think menu labeling can really help consumers make good decisions for themselves and their families," she says.

New York City has been a leader in this area, and Cavallaro says she was pleasantly surprised during a recent visit to see the calorie postings on the menu boards. "It's right there for you," she says.

Adults are making more educated decisions with the help of calorie postings because it's often hard to know what's in food eaten outside the home, she says. But kids should learn to stop eating when they feel full, rather than focus on counting calories. The menu listings -- when used appropriately -- can help families make good decisions, she adds.

"Most people don't really realize how many calories and how much fat food has when it's from outside the home," Cavallaro says.

She recommends that clients who are rushed at meal time try to plan ahead rather than hitting the drive through window. Meal planning may be thought of as something your grandmother did, but it works. By cooking batches of food on the weekends and freezing it, rushed families can still have a good meal, Cavallaro says. She recommends clients look to Martha Stewart's Everyday Food and Allrecipes.com for ideas about meal planning and simple meals prepared at home.

If parents cut back from eating out one time a week, that's a great first step, Cavallaro says.

Related: Fighting Childhood Obesity

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.