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July 29th, 2014

How to make dining out during the holidays a healthy experience

The holiday season is here and if you’re like most Americans, restaurants will play a key role in your holiday plans and celebrations, as well as shopping and traveling experiences. 

Each year, tens of millions of Americans visit restaurants for their holiday meals or use restaurants to supplement meals at home. For anyone with a busy schedule, the opportunity to go to a restaurant or bring takeout items home allows for more time with family and friends and does not require the cleanup that typically goes along with cooking a meal. 

National Restaurant Association research shows that more and more, consumers are looking for better-for-you items. While dining out this holiday season, parents looking for those healthful options for themselves and their children will be pleased to find a larger variety of choices on restaurant menus. More than 110 restaurant brands representing 30,000 locations nationwide are now participating in the Kids LiveWell program, an initiative established by the National Restaurant Association in collaboration with Healthy Dining, a group of registered dietitians who have worked with the industry for two decades to help restaurants provide a selection of healthful, dietitian-approved items.

Participating restaurants and qualifying Kids LiveWell menu choices can be found on HealthyDiningFinder.com, along with thousands of dietitian-approved choices for the whole family. The program’s free app makes it easy to find healthful menu items for your kids while out on the go. The app is available in the Android market and iTunes app store and can be downloaded at Restaurant.org/KidsLiveWell.

Restaurants participating in the program can be found in every state in the country, including everything from quick-service restaurants to fast-casual concepts, from the largest restaurant chains to independent operators. Each one of these restaurants’ Kids LiveWell items meets qualifying criteria based on leading health organizations’ scientific recommendations, including the 2010 USDA Dietary Guidelines. The initiative incorporates fruit and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and low-fat dairy, and limits unhealthy fats, sugars and sodium. 

During the winter months, and particularly the holidays, we may be more tempted by indulgent desserts and holiday meals. So what can people do to prevent possible weight gain? Registered dietitian and the National Restaurant Association’s director of nutrition, Dr. Joy Dubost, has a few recommendations:

* Fill your plate with fruits and vegetables, which are lower in calories and packed with nutrients.

* Try incorporating more fiber rich whole grains into the meal, which may help to keep you fuller longer.

* Don’t think you have to avoid your favorite desserts; just remember to choose smaller portion sizes.

* If you are going to eat a more indulgent meal, adjust your calories accordingly throughout the day but do not skip meals. Eat slowly and enjoy the dining experience.

* Don’t forget to keep up your physical activity to ensure you are burning the calories you have consumed.

The holidays can be an especially busy time for families. The Kids LiveWell and Healthy Dining programs help ensure families can celebrate this holiday season with nutritious, well-balanced meals. Wherever you choose to celebrate, have a happy and safe holiday season.

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