What does your kid crave more: pizza or hamburgers? I bet it isn’t a vegetable soup or salad, because most kids prefer fast food. It’s convenient for you as well. When you get home from work, all stressed up and tired, and with a lot on your mind, you surely don’t feel like cooking.
Perhaps you will change your mind if you become aware of what fast food does to children’s health. The stake here is much higher than the half an hour you save by not cooking, the couple of dollars you spend, or the child’s enthusiasm. First, take a look at the following fast food statistics.
Fast Food Statistics for 2016
• According to StatisticBrain.com, in 2016 America was home to 160,000 fast food restaurants.
• These restaurants catered to the taste and hunger of 50,000,000 people every day.
• Their annual revenue reached and exceeded $110,000,000,000.
• 44% of Americans eat fast food at least once a week.• Fast food accounts for 37% of an average American’s daily calories intake, 42.6% of the carbs intake, and 33.6 % of the fat intake, but only 15.4% of the protein intake.
Otherwise put, we’re voluntarily supporting a multi-billion dollars industry, and we’re paying for it with our health. If you don’t care much about your own health, your child’s health should definitely matter. Have you considered how fast food affects your kid’s health?
The Impact of Fast Food on Children’s Health
Check out this list of health problems fast food can cause:
• Weight gain
• Blood sugar spikes
• High blood pressure
• Bloating, gas, and digestive discomfort
• Breathing difficulties
• Dental distress
• High cholesterol
• Cardiovascular disease
The close link between these conditions is easy to notice. It all begins with the high content of calories, fats, salt, and sugar, and the poor nutritive value of fast food. By eating burgers, pizza, and hot-dogs, out kids stuff their bodies with more calories, fats, salt, and sugar than they need, without getting the much more valuable proteins, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
They get fat, they lose their ability and interest to exercise, they develop breathing difficulties, and their body can no longer process sugar as it used to. Slowly but surely, their fast food diet leads to obesity, heart problems, and diabetes. Do you find it hard to believe? Check out these worrying facts:
Over 30% of the American children are obese. Children (adults, too) gain weight when they eat more calories than they need. This is easy with fast food, considering the following facts:
• One regular size serving of French fries can reach 700 calories
• One regular burger patty can reach 300 calories
• One regular hamburger or sandwich can reach 1500 calories.
Otherwise put, a single meal composed of a hamburger and some dessert will cover your kid’s daily need of calories. The calories ingested from other meals and snacks that day will add up to their weight. With fast food part of your kid’s diet, obesity is a reality waiting to happen.
Research shows that fats and cholesterol (abundant in fast food) can lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes. A 2013 study published in “Hormone Research in Paediatrics” concluded that overweight children are more prone to high blood pressure. Left untreated, this problem can lead to heart disease.
Similarly, high cholesterol (excess fat building up in the arteries) can lead to strokes. According to CDC, 1 in 5 American children and teenagers (ages 6 to 19) have high cholesterol (caused by saturated fats, abundant in fast food.
It is a metabolic disorder in which the body is no longer able to break down sugar. This inability is the result of a diet high in sugar. Most fast food products contain a high amount of sugar, many exceeding the recommended daily quantity.
In fact, according to a report of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, 59% of the products marketed to children fail to meet third party nutrition standards. Most of the products in this category were puddings, fruit-flavored and sweet snacks, and cookies, all of them rich in sugar.
To sum up, if you let your children eat fast food, you are condemning them to obesity, heart problems, and diabetes, to a sedentary life marked by illness, self-pitying, and depression. Of course, you cannot simply forbid fast food once and for all. What can you do?
Well, not all fast food abounds in grease and trans fats. You just have to find the healthiest options in the menu and convince your child to give them a chance. FoxNews compiled an interesting list of dietitian-approved fast food options available in the most popular restaurant chains.
Healthy Fast Food Options from the Most Popular Restaurants
• CHICK-FIL-A – As the name suggests, their menus focus on chicken. Their Spicy Southwest Salad is a delicious combination of grilled spicy chicken breast, lettuce, carrots, red cabbage, baby greens, and more. It has proteins, vitamins, and minerals, and your kid can cut back on fat and sodium by using less dressing. When they want a change of taste and flavor, they can try the Grilled Nuggets, with a fruit cup or a side salad.
• TACO BELL – If your kid is not into meat, or you just want to grow their taste for vegetables, have them try the Power Menu Veggie Bowl. It contains black beans, guacamole, rice, crisp romaine lettuce, and pico de gallo, abounding in protein and fiber. To keep calories to a minimum, they can skip the sour cream. Of course, not all kids favor veggies, so consider Chicken Soft Tacos an alternative. Packed with protein and low in calories, they are even healthier if you replace the sour cream and the cheese pico de gallo, black beans and some romaine lettuce.
• MCDONALD’S – Does your child like McDonald’s Egg McMuffins for breakfast? They can now have them anytime of the day. They’re rich in protein and offer an acceptable amount of calories, saturated fats, and sodium, especially if your child agrees to skip the cheese. They can have apple slices instead. Believe it or not, McDoubles can be a healthy alternative too. The trick is to skip the cheese and add some tomato slices instead. Your kid will get protein, fiber, and vitamin C, without skyrocketing their caloric intake.
• BURGER KING – Their Grilled Chicken Sandwich, with tomatoes and fresh lettuce appeals to anyone. It is healthier and lower in calories without the mayo. A great alternative to it is the MorningStar Veggie Burger, full of protein and low in calories, especially without mayo.
• DUNKIN DONUTS – Teach your child to skip the donuts and have Egg and Cheese on English Muffin instead. Replacing the bagel with an English muffin will help them cut down refined carbs and calories, and a banana will add sweetness and fiber. The Egg White Flatbread abounds in protein, fiber, and vegetables, without adding too many carbs and calories.
• STARBUCKS – If your child loves wraps, have them try the Spinach, Feta, and Egg White Breakfast Wrap. Rich in protein and fiber, and low in saturated fats, it goes great with fresh fruits, and will make them drink plenty of water. As an alternative, they can have the Protein Bistro Box, a healthy and delicious combination of eggs, fruits, cheese, peanut butter, and bread.
• SUBWAY – The Oven Roasted Chicken on Multigrain Flatbread is a great source of protein, and fiber, without spiking your child’s cholesterol and blood sugar. The Classic Tuna on Grain Wheat is another great choice, providing fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, without skyrocketing your child caloric and saturated fat intake.
If fast food and takeaways are part of your daily diet, the least you can do is teach your children to make the best choices for their health. You can start by setting an example yourself. Keep reading to discover some interesting tips on how to eat healthy fast food.
Tips for Healthy Fast Food Eating
• Information enables smart and healthy decisions – Knowing how many calories and how much fat, salt or sugar a certain food item contains will help you and your loved ones choose healthier food options. Go to restaurants that list such information in their menu or make it available to anyone interested.
• Choose restaurants that care about their clients’ dietary restrictions and concerns – Many restaurants are expanding their menus to include healthy, low fat and low sugar alternatives. The more healthy options you have, the more likely you are to avoid fatty, high-calorie foods, so choose restaurants with menus that include soups, salads, vegetables, tea, fresh juice, and lemonade. They should also allow customers to adjust the recipe to their liking (give up some ingredients or replace them with others).
• Avoid fatty foods and sweets – Choose oven roasted and/or grilled meats over fried ones, give up mayo, cheese, bacon bits, and sauces. Choose raw or steamed vegetables and lettuce over French fries. Go for whole-grain breads and bagels instead of white bread. Star away from croissants and biscuits. Frozen yogurt and fruit salads are always preferable to donuts, pancakes, chocolate, and ice cream.
• Less is best – Choose junior or regular size portions over big or double ones. Limit the frequency of your fast food meals to once a week, or, better yet, once a month.
Of course, the even better option is to cook your family’s favorite fast foods at home, from healthy and fresh ingredients.
The Benefits of Cooking Fast Food at Home and Doing It the Healthy Way
If your idea of cooking healthy fast food at home involves buying pre-fried burgers, nuggets, and fish fingers from the supermarket and frying them a little more at home, think again! Such food would be as harmful as restaurant fast food.
The trick is to buy low fat meats and organic vegetables, and make your own burgers and nuggets. Get some ground chicken, turkey or beef meat, and season it with garlic, onions, basil, paprika, pepper, salt, and any other herbs and spices you prefer.
If you want less meat and more vegetables, consider adding some shredded mushrooms to the mix. It will make it creamier and add to its taste and flavor. You can bake the burgers or the nuggets in the oven or grill them.
Use mustard instead of mayo, or make your own mayo using low amounts of healthier fats. Make your own ketchup, to avoid the added sugar in store varieties. Make your own loafs and bagels using whole-grain flour or buy whole-grain varieties.
Even if you follow the original recipes and you just replace some of the ingredients with healthier alternatives, you can still reduce your family’s caloric intake and the negative impact of the food they eat on their health.
For example, use whole grain flour instead of white one, coconut or olive oil instead of sunflower oil, organic brown sugar instead of white sugar, etc. You may not notice the results immediately, but they will become obvious with time.
More than that, your children will develop their taste for healthy food and will stop craving fast food and store sweets. After all, your children’s health matters more than your own comfort. That half an hour you need to spend in the kitchen cooking something healthy for the entire family is well worth it.
Besides helping you watch over the health of your loved ones, it will also give you a chance to talk about your day, learn more about your loved ones’ interests and activities, bond and have fun, together, as a family.
You won’t get that in a fast food restaurant, with the music playing and people rushing to eat. Everyone’s rushing fats, salt, and sugar down their throat, without even taking the time to enjoy the taste and flavor that bought them there in the first place.
Everyone’s craving what the person next to them is having and thinking what to order next. If you let your family, and especially your children, get caught in this whirlwind, getting them out will be close to impossible, so act now! Help your child stay healthy, by keeping them away from fast food!
I am a simple, optimistic, and straightforward wife and mother, lucky enough to be making a living doing what I love – reading and writing.
I have a MS degree in Sociology, and extensive training in Marketing, Human Resources Management, Work Health and Safety, Finances, and Quality Management. I am also a member of the International Association of Professional Writers & Editors.
I have extensive experience in sales, marketing, project management, event planning, and financial counseling. Writing has been my lifelong passion and a profession for the past decade. I wrote thousands of articles for agencies like 101Content, WriterBay, and Express Writers LLC, several eBooks, and hundreds of product reviews.
My education, thirst for knowledge, and professional and life experience make me a self-taught expert on health, weight loss, relationships, pregnancy, motherhood, and lifestyle.