Comment: It's time for ALL restaurants to offer healthy meal options for children

Nuggets and chips, burger and chips, sausage and chips...when it comes to meal options for children on restaurant menus, the healthy choices are pitiful, writes Amanda Cassidy

How can we get our children to eat more healthily if their choices in many Irish restaurants remain so unimaginative? Of course, all kids will opt for French fries given the choice between that or vegetables. But often, in many restaurants, they aren't even given the choice.

As parents are usually the ones who order for the children (while they are little) so there is no reason why restaurants can't start a healthy children's food revolution.

This week, a study carried out by the Economic & Social Research Institute, found that people ordered and ate less when calorie labels were put on menus. That's despite the fears of many restaurant owners.


Related: An app to count calories on Instagram 

The research also found that publishing the calories didn't make people enjoy their meal any less. When the calorie labels were printed to the right hand side of the price on the menu, in the same size and type of print as the font, it led to a whopping 19% drop in calories ordered and 37% decrease in calories eaten.


"How can we expect to nurture health eating habits if their experience of 'eating out' which more of us now do, is so limited"

Dr Deirdre Robertson, said the study which was funded by the Department of Health, was long overdue. "Opinions about calorie posting differ and can be strongly held, so it is important to provide objective evidence about the likely impact. Our results show not only that calorie posting changes behaviour, but also that seemingly small changes to the format influence how well people understand and respond to the information."

The restaurant industry has a responsibility to ensure that their offering includes healthy choices. When it comes to children, this needs to be expanded out to include options other than chips, processed foods and juice.



"In one category alone, saturated fat content was 400 % higher than the guidelines recommended."

How can we expect to nurture health eating habits if their experience of 'eating out' which more of us now do, is limited? Surely there is scope for imaginative and well-considered food choices in restaurants for children as well as adults?

A separate study, carried out by the Cork Institute of Technology earlier this year found that 68% of meals for children in restaurants in the UK and Ireland exceeded nutritional guidelines for fats. That's two thirds of them!

In one category alone, saturated fat content was 400 % higher than the guidelines recommended. The research, which was published in the 'Journal of Nutrition Education and Behaviour', raised alarming issues over children's diet and the fact that so many families are now eating out rather than dining at home.

This is a serious public health issue. Parents are willing to work in tandem with restaurants to ensure that menu options are expanded to include vegetables, stews, salads and non-sweetened drinks for little ones in order to normalise healthy food.

Calories are great as a guidance to educate us about how much we are actually consuming when we eat out, but let's try to now focus on some better food options for our children.

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Read more: Five healthy breakfast options (that are not cereal)

Read more: Childhood obesity: Are you making your child fat?

Read more: The best family restaurants

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