Families just love dining out and while it can be equally fun for kids, frequent eating out may not at all be healthy for the entire family. According to studies, kids who dine out for at least four times in a week are actually at risk, for heart disease and stroke later in life. A child may also be predisposed to having higher blood pressure, and high levels of LDL cholesterol, which may also lead to other serious health problems.

The study also revealed that the older the child, the more frequently he or she ate out. Since fast-food restaurants and other food joints can be found everywhere, it is very important for parents to encourage kids, to make healthy choices when dining out. This is essential so that children will learn how to choose the proper food items, whether they eat at a school cafeteria or elsewhere.

Here are some tips on how you can help your kids recognize and choose healthy food choices:

1. Choose well-balanced meals when ordering.
Encourage your kids to order dishes that contain a balance of lean portions of meat, fruits, vegetables, and whole grain breads. A turkey sandwich with lettuce and tomatoes on a whole wheat bread is a much healthier choice, than a typical cheeseburger on a white bun. Fish will always be a good choice because it contains polyunsaturated fat that may help decrease your risk of heart problems.

2. Pay attention to portion sizes.
Many restaurants and fast-food joints now offer bigger portions of food. Share orders with the family, or you may ask to have half of the order placed on a to-go box. If the entire meal is served, an individual may be enticed to consume so much more than what is really needed. Do not encourage your kids to upgrade orders to larger sizes, as this may only encourage overeating.

3. Try to make special requests when allowed.
There are restaurants that allow customers to make special requests. Ask whether you can have healthier substitutions like vegetables on the side, instead of french fries. Request that visible fat from poultry and meat are removed, and to use less oil and salt. You may even request that your meals are cooked in olive oil or vegetable oil. Ask that the dressings, gravy, and sauces are served on the side of the dish. This will allow you to use these sparingly, or to skip these altogether.

4. Always consider how the meals are cooked or prepared.
Many meals can be tasty, but they may also be high in fat and calories, depending on the manner of preparation. Choose meals that are broiled, steamed, baked, grilled,poached, or roasted. These are healthier fares as compared to foods that are fried,escalloped, sautéed, creamed, or braised.

5. Avoid foods high in sodium.
Foods that are pickled, or those that have cocktail, teriyaki, or soy sauce, are generally high in sodium. You may also ask to use less salt, and to avoid using MSG on your ordered dishes.

6. Pay close attention to the restaurant’s menu.
In line with the goal to provide healthier food choices, some restaurants already offer meals that are low in fat, cholesterol, and sodium. Some restaurants have specific icons for these dishes, and try not to confuse these with other icons like bestsellers, so you can make the right order.

7. Drink water instead sodas, juices, and other high calorie beverages.
Many of these refreshing beverages like milkshakes, sodas, and juices contain empty calories, which an individual does not really need.

8. Choose fruit or sherbet instead of high-fat dessert choices like ice cream and cakes.
Your family can still enjoy dessert without adding too much calories to the already filling meal. Choose fresh fruits or sherbet, and skip on the high-calorie dessert items being offered. Even if some restaurants offer these items, they may not have it on their menu. Thus, it may be best that you ask healthier options every time you order.

While these recommendations are pretty much applicable in a restaurant setting, teaching kids early on how to make the right food choices, can influence them to practice healthy habits later in life. We don’t really have to be difficult customers when we make orders. However, these efforts can help build awareness in kids that eating healthy is actually a matter of choice. During these times when we are surrounded by unhealthy food choices and extra large food portions, parents need to play a role so that kids are on the right path to eating healthy.