Healthy Eating for Kids: Teaching Your Child to Eat Healthy in a Fast Food World

Eight: Restaurant vs. Home-Cooked Meals

There is a big difference between restaurant and home-cooked meals. Restaurant foods are highly processed, and contain large amounts of carbohydrates, sugar, fats, and sodium ( I have family members who have high blood pressure and cholesterol because they eat at McDonald’s every day. Restaurant foods are high in calories, which means children are consuming most of their daily calories in one meal. Children are consuming over 3000 calories, and that is simply too much for their bodies to handle. A Big Mac meal has 1130 calories along with 1325mg of sodium. The sodium intake is almost a full day of the recommended level. Too much sodium aids in water retention in the body, and causes bloating and puffiness (

Restaurants usually buy their foods in bulk. For example, it is cheaper for them to buy white or wheat bread vs. gluten-free bread. That is why restaurants that have gluten-free bread always charge extra, because they have to pay more for it. Now, quite a few restaurants receive their foods already preseasoned, which is loaded with sodium. I was told that because of the fast-paced businesses of fast food and dine-in restaurants, there is no time to cook all the meals. So basically, since the foods are already premade, all the employees at the restaurants have to do is warm them up. Most of all the desserts are already made and sent to restaurants for refrigeration and to serve the customers. So, most of your foods at restaurants are not made fresh anymore.

Years ago, I went to a buffet restaurant and the mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese were both instant. I picked up the ladle with mashed potatoes on it and it was in liquid form. The cheese and chocolate cakes looked like they had no life to them, and it felt like I was putting slime down my throat. Most soft drinks served at buffet restaurants include free refills, which is another disadvantage because of the sugar and caffeine. People believe that buffet dining is beneficial because of the price and variety of foods. However, it is just the opposite. These restaurants are a breeding ground for obesity, sickness, and disease. There are restaurants that make fresh foods, and they even make it right in front of you. However, by the time you get your seats, you are immediately served with bread, crackers or chips, then appetizers, and next your meal, which is double the average portion size, and finally, dessert with coffee. Now you have surpassed your daily calorie intake quite a few times from that one meal alone.

Meals cooked at home are a lot more controlled because you choose the amount of seasoning that can be added to the meals. Personally, I choose not to give my family or daycare children any sodium or pepper. Most foods already contain salt, just like our bodies. I know the food may taste bland without seasonings, but that is the way it is supposed to be eaten. I have seen numerous people put so much ketchup on their fries or steak sauce on their steak that I wonder how they could even taste the food!

Meals cooked at home are fresher and healthier. Another benefit of having meals at home is that it makes great quality time with your family. Parents and children need to talk to each other and get to know one another. Preparing and cooking food offers this opportunity to families. Prepping the foods is also educational for children because they get to learn about different types of foods. Children can also have teachable moments such as using math to measure the foods they are preparing. Children can learn dinner etiquette by setting the table using plates, glasses, and silverware. It would be ideal to not have the television on during meal times as well.

Children will also learn about different flavors and textures of foods. We also want to encourage children to eat their food slowly, and take small bites when eating. Some children take longer in eating their food and that’s ok. Other children eat their meals way too fast. I have some children who choke on their food and drinks if they eat too fast. I let my children know that it is not a race and they do not have to finish first. Mealtime should be an enjoyable and memorable time. My mother used to cook meals right out of our garden. She had greens, squash, tomatoes, and peppers.

I currently have two brothers who walk to daycare every single day, even in the cold. One of the brothers loves tomatoes, and he would bring them from his garden for Show and Share, or for part of a meal. However, his mom always warned me that he might eat up all the tomatoes while walking to daycare.

Another benefit of home-cooked meals is the convenience of leftovers, which is a cost-effective way to include another meal. It also saves time on preparing and cooking another meal. For example, if you decide to have fast food for lunch or dinner, consider the time spent going out, waiting in lines, waiting on your name to be called, and then heading back home if it's a takeout. With leftovers, lunch or dinner can already be prepared. All you would have to do is reheat. There are many meals that are easy to prepare and reheat the next day. For example, baked chicken breast, vegetables, and rice. Consider preparing 3-4 days of meals and how it can save you time, money and allow more quality time with family.

A healthy home-cooked meal can be cooked in less than thirty minutes. For example, you can make a taco salad with either chicken chunks or ground-up lean beef, lettuce, tomatoes, homemade salsa, and rice chips. George Foreman Grills cook foods like burgers, fish, and chicken within minutes. I would recommend the temperature-setting grill so your food will not cook faster inside or out. I had a neighbor who brought over fresh salmon from his Canada fishing trip. I cleaned it up real good, sliced lemons and oranges on it, added Mrs. Dash seasoning and garlic, then cooked it on our George Foreman Grill. I steamed mixed vegetables, then cooked Quinoa, which completed our meal in less than thirty minutes.

In addition, home-cooked meals are more economical as opposed to eating out at restaurants. A meal for two at a restaurant can range from $30-$100, and that’s not including the tip. However, meals can last a week when you buy groceries for home. My family and I once went to a buffet restaurant with six in our party. After we ordered all the drinks the bill was well over $100.00, not including the tip. When I first got married my husband I were not eating healthy. I loved eating out at all different kinds of restaurants. My husband did not like to eat out because of the long wait and he wanted leftovers. However, I was not cooking, so he had to eat out with me. After our first year of marriage we noticed a significant deficit in our budget because we ate out all the time, which led to a negative change in our finances.

Nonetheless, home-cooked meals can cause weight gain if you are not eating enough healthy foods. I had a parent ask her daughter what she wanted to eat, and she told her she wanted hot dogs, mashed potatoes, and macaroni and cheese. First of all, the child received two starches, which are high in sugar and calories, and the hot dogs are pork. So I asked the parent if she served this meal a lot to her child, and she said yes. I kindly encouraged her to have her daughter try different foods that are healthier. She agreed, and I told the parent that introducing new foods to children is a process and should be conducted gradually. However, children will only eat what adults give them. So, I want to encourage parents to be more mindful of what you are feeding your children. Ask questions like, is this food harming or helping my children based on weight gain or health? Does this type of food drain them or give them energy? When they eat certain sweets, do they appear to be hyper and out of control? Have I fed my children any brain foods today, such as fruits and vegetables?

Having fun experiences with food in the kitchen allows children to become more open minded towards trying new foods, and ultimately develop healthier food choices. Have a picky eater? The more children are involved with food preparation, the more likely they are to try new foods. The trick to picky eaters is to pique their interest about different foods so they become so curious and want to try it. Here are some ways to involve children and picky eaters in food preparation: The kids can help come up with the menu. Let them help create the grocery shopping list and write down the names of the foods. Have the kids help pick the fresh produce and find items on the list. The children can help wash the fresh fruits and vegetables. Play a game of guessing their names as they are taken out of the grocery bag. Children can also help put fresh fruits and vegetables on platters.

Another benefit of eating at home is that you get to make your own soups. Most grocery store and restaurant soups are high in sodium. However, if you make your own soup at home you can significantly reduce the sodium and calorie intake. There are many recipes you can use; just change the ingredients to make it healthier. Here a few examples:

Sweet Potato Split Pea

1 cup yellow split peas (or green, it just won't be as pretty)

1 quart vegetable broth

1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch slices green cardamom pods

1-2 tablespoon butter (or olive oil)

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

1 teaspoon

1⁄2 teaspoon curry powder(optional)

1⁄2-1 teaspoon ground cumin

lemon juice

cayenne pepper (or chop up some jalapeno pepper for more heat)

sea salt 



Slow Cooker method: Place peas, broth and sweet potato in a slow cooker. Cook on high for 4 to 6 hours or on low for 6 to 8 hours, adding additional broth or water to thicken if needed. When ready to serve, heat butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add onions, curry powder if using and cumin and cook for 10 minutes, stirring often. Add the spiced onions to the slow cooker. Stir, cover and cook for 15 minutes longer on high heat. Season the soup with lemon, cayenne, salt and pepper.

Chicken Noodle Soup

2 pounds cut-up chicken, skinless and boneless, cut into 2" pieces (raw chicken) (I used breasts for this recipe, but feel free to use dark meat or a combination of breasts and thighs)

6 cups low sodium chicken broth, fat free

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, more or less to taste

1 cup sliced celery

4 carrots, sliced

1 small onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup fresh, chopped, Italian parsley

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

sea salt

8 ounces whole rice spaghetti, broken into small pieces


Add all ingredients, except the noodles, in the slow cooker and cook for 6-8 hours on low, or until carrots are tender. For the last hour of cooking time, add the broken pasta and continue cooking for one additional hour or until pasta is al dente, or to desired doneness.

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1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef

1 onion, chopped

1 small green bell pepper, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 red kidney beans, rinsed and drained

2 3-4 fresh diced tomatoes

2 to 3 tablespoons chili powder

1 teaspoon of sea salt

1 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon ground cumin


Cook first 4 ingredients in a large skillet over medium-high heat, stirring until beef crumbles and is no longer pink; drain. Place mixture in 5-quart slow cooker; stir in beans and remaining ingredients. Cook at HIGH for 3 to 4 hours or at LOW for 5 to 6 hours.

Notes: If you want to thicken this saucy chili, stir in finely crushed gluten-free crackers until desired thickness is achieved.

Healthy Children’s Meals:

Meatloaf Muffins

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 cup finely chopped onion

1/2 cup finely chopped carrot

1 teaspoon dried oregano

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 cup ketchup, divided

1 1/2 pounds ground beef, extra lean (raw)

1 cup finely crushed fat-free saltine crackers (about 20)

2 tablespoons prepared mustard

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 large eggs

Cooking spray


Preheat oven to 350°.

Heat the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chopped onion, chopped carrot, dried oregano, and minced garlic; sauté 2 minutes. Cool.

Combine onion mixture, 1/2 cup ketchup, and the remaining ingredients except cooking spray in a large bowl.

Spoon the meat mixture into 12 muffin cups coated with cooking spray. Top each with 2 teaspoons of ketchup. Bake at 350° for 25 minutes or until a thermometer registers 160°. Let stand for 5 minutes.

Add steamed green beans and roasted sweet potato wedges.

Pepperoni Pizza


1 cup tomato-and-basil pasta sauce

1 (10-oz.) package prebaked gluten-free thin Italian pizza crust

1/4 cup turkey pepperoni slices (about 24)

1 1/2 cups (6 oz.) part-skim mozzarella cheese


1. Spoon tomato-and-basil pasta sauce evenly over crust, leaving a 1-inch border around edges. Top with half of pepperoni slices. Sprinkle with cheese. Top with remaining pepperoni.

2. Bake pizza at 450° directly on oven rack 11 to 12 minutes or until crust is golden and cheese is melted. Cut into 6 slices. Serve immediately.

Note: For testing purposes only, we used Thin Pizza Crust and Classico Tomato & Basil Pasta Sauce.

Soft or Hard Tacos With Chicken

Marinating the chicken breasts and onion adds flavor and creates a tender base for this easy recipe. Add salsa, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and avocado slices to top these tacos off.

Ingredients: Chicken breasts, bay leaf, oregano, red onion, olive oil, rice tortillas,

cilantro, salsa

Chicken Nuggets

1/2 pound chicken breast

1 large egg

1 dash – salt

1/2 cup gluten-free bread crumbs, plain

2 tablespoons butter, unsalted

2 tablespoons honey mustard dressing


1. Boil five ounces of chicken breast for 20 minutes in water.

2. In a blender, blend together cooked chicken breast, 1 egg and salt.

3. Pack small balls of the meat mixture into cookie cutters, and roll in breadcrumbs. Or make meat mixture into small balls and roll in bread crumbs. Shapes are optional.

4. Place shapes (or balls) onto a cookie sheet. Drizzle with a little butter to make them crispier.

5. Bake at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes. Flip halfway through if you want both sides crispy.

6. Dip in your favorite dip, like honey mustard, BBQ sauce, Ranch Dressing, etc.

7. Add fruit and sweet potato fries.

Tasty Tots


5 cups fresh sweet potatoes, peeled, coarsely shredded

2 1/3 cups canned low-sodium garbanzo beans (chickpeas),with liquid

½ tablespoon olive oil

½ cup fresh green onions, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon granulated black pepper

½ teaspoon onion powder

½ ground cinnamon


1. Preheat oven to 350 F.

2. Place shredded potatoes on a large baking pan sprayed with a nonstick olive oil spray. Bake for 20 minutes or until slightly tender. Do not overcook.

3. Increase oven temperature to 400 F.

4. In a food processor or blender, puree garbanzo beans including the liquid, until smooth.

5. In a medium mixing bowl, combine shredded sweet potatoes, pureed garbanzo beans, green onions, olive oil, garlic, onion powder, and cinnamon. Mix well. Cover and refrigerate for 40-45 minutes to make tots easier to form.

6. Spray a large baking sheet with olive oil cooking spray. Using a cookie scoop or a spoon, roll 36 tots. Place 1 inch apart on baking sheet. Lightly flatten the tops of the tots with a spoon or fork. Bake at 400 F for 10-12 minutes or until lightly brown. Serve hot.

Macaroni and cheese

2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni - low glycemic, gluten-free... any will work!

1 tablespoon butter

1 small yellow onion

1 small butternut squash (4-5 cups cubed)

5 cups chicken or vegetable broth

¾ 1% low-fat cup milk

1 teaspoon sea salt

⅔ cup shredded cheese - I use Mozzarella but any kind will work

Parsley for topping

Sea salt and pepper to taste

Cook the macaroni according to package directions. Drain and set aside. Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium low heat. Cut the onion into thin rings and add to the butter in the pan, sautéing over low heat until fragrant and golden, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, remove the skin and the seeds from the squash. Cut the flesh into small cubes. Bring the broth to a boil and add the squash. Cook for 5-7 minutes or until fork tender. Drain, reserving ½ cup broth, and transfer squash to the blender. Add the onions, milk, salt, and reserved broth and puree until completely smooth and creamy. This should yield about 4 cups of sauce.

Pour the pureed sauce over the cooked noodles and add the shredded cheese. Stir to melt the cheese; add water or milk to adjust consistency as needed. Serve with parsley, salt, and pepper to taste. Add fruit.

Smoothie Recipes

Pumpkin Spice Smoothie


½ cup canned pumpkin (or puree if you wish)

1 frozen banana peeled and chopped

1 tablespoon honey or syrup

½ teaspoon vanilla

¼ teaspoon of cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon allspice

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

1 cup vanilla almond milk

¾ cup ice


Place all ingredients in blender; blend until thoroughly mixed.

Hulk Juice


2 cups of almond milk

3 small broccoli heads

1 cup of spinach

1 cup of green grapes

1 green apple

½ banana

2 slices of pineapple


Place all ingredients in blender; blend until thoroughly mixed.

Orange Passion


2 cups of almond milk

1 orange, peeled

1 cup of frozen mango

3 mint leaves, no stems

½ banana


Blend and enjoy.

Sweet Potato Surprise


1 sweet potato (already baked)

1 banana

½ cup of oatmeal

2 cups of almond milk

3 tablespoon of cinnamon

1 cup of ice


Blend and enjoy.

Chocolate Breezer


2 cups of chocolate almond milk

1 frozen banana

1 cup of frozen pineapple

1 teaspoon of ground ginger

2 tablespoons of honey


Place all ingredients in blender; blend until thoroughly mixed.

Strawberry Delight


2 cups of frozen strawberries

1 cup of frozen mango chunks

½ cup of banana

2 cups of almond milk

2 tablespoons of honey


Blend and enjoy.

Nikki’s Breakfast Smoothie


1 cup of kale

1 cup of spinach

1 cup of broccoli

3 tablespoons of blueberries

2 tablespoons of frozen cherries

1/2 cup of frozen mango chunks

½ frozen banana

1 tablespoon of pumpkin seeds

1 scoop of vanilla protein

2 cups of filtered water

½ cup of ice


Blend and enjoy.