Where is your kid’s lunch coming from – McDonald’s, a school cafeteria, or your refrigerator? A fascinating new report from the USDA’s Economic Research Service gives concrete evidence to what you may have already suspected: that eating out tends to add calories to your child’s diet.
“How Food Away From Home Affects Children’s Diet Quality” finds that for all children after controlling for the effects of consumption of caloric sweetened beverages) each away-from-home meal adds 65 calories and lowers diet quality scores by 4 percent compared with meals prepared at home. For older children (ages 13 to 18), the effect amounts to 107 additional calories for each away-from-home meal.
As for school food, researchers found that it does not appear to have negative effects on the diets of younger children (ages 6-12). However, among children ages 13-18, school food has effects similar to restaurant food, increasing daily caloric intake by 145 calories and lowering diet quality scores by 3 percent, compared with food prepared at home.
Given that older kids tend to consume more meals and snacks from all away-from-home sources, the report notes that efforts to improve the quality of food away from home and food from school may especially benefit the older age group. But you can also help your kids watch what they eat by giving them tempting options at home. Sure, a plate of apple slices at home may not be as “cool” as a french-fry break with friends, but if you make that kind of food available and they are hungry, they will eat it. And who knows – it might become a habit.