Teenagers are not typically known for their healthy food choices. But what would happen if fast food restaurants highlighted nutritional information right on the menu? Perhaps teens and children would take note and make healthier choices as a result? Fat chance.
A recent study examined this issue and found that calorie labeling made absolutely no difference in the choices children and teens made at fast food restaurants. Taste was reported to be the main factor in deciding what to order. And with teens, peer influence and price are also likely to weigh heavily on food choices.This does not mean, however, that such programs should be abandoned. Many of the study participants, who were economically disadvantaged, ate fast food six or more times per week. These customers may be so familiar with the restaurant offerings that they don’t even consult the menu, so it may take some time for the new nutritional information to sink in. The study also found that participants were not knowledgeable about how many calories they should consume per day. Perhaps more nutrition education would help these labels have more influence, or maybe a simpler, more accessible labeling system would be beneficial.
Either way, here are some general tips for making good fast food choices:
- Choose a plain hamburger. Extras like cheese and sauces can triple the calories.
- Choose grilled chicken over breaded options like nuggets or “crispy” varieties.
- Choose “snack” sizes, which often have half the calories of the full-size version.
- Be a small fry. If you must have fries, keep it to a small size; or if your meal comes with a larger size, throw half of them out before you even start eating.
- Salads aren’t always healthy. Salads provide lots of nutrients and fiber, but some pack in more calories than a hamburger and fries. So avoid toppings like bacon, cheese, crispy lo mein noodles and fried tortilla strips. See if the restaurant offers a half portion.
- Choose vinaigrette over creamy salad dressings.
- Skip the soda and the shakes.
- Other good choices include chili, baked potatoes and bean burritos
- Don’t make it a habit. Try to make fast food an occasional treat for you and your kids. Even when making decent choices, children and teens are unlikely to meet the nutrient demands of a growing body on a diet of fast food.