Christine Avanti: Easy Ways to Get Your Kids to Eat Healthy When You're On The Go

Getting your kids to eat healthy is often a challenge -- especially when you're pressed for time or you're traveling and only have fast-food options. This question came up in an interview I recently did and here are some of the highlights:

Q: How do you keep kids eating healthy while traveling?

CA: If you are getting on the road or on a plane, it is smart to not only eat right before you go out the door, but pack sandwiches too. When you are hungry on a long airplane flight it is amazing how tasty that homemade turkey sandwich can be. One of my fundamental lessons is to eat frequently (no more than 4 hours between meals) to stabilize blood sugar levels -- and this has a remarkable effect on the moods of little people (and big people). I could never over-emphasize this - so a very important recommendation is to pack lunches. Be sure to include some of the following: grapes, apples, pears, blueberries or strawberries. Again on a plane or a long drive these juicy fruits seem tastier. There's really nothing wrong with having a few potato chips when eaten with all this other fresh stuff. My on-the-go meal substitute is either a few Babybel light cheeses plus an apple or a Clif Builder bar and a pear. I ALWAYS recommend combining protein with a carb and including at least one fresh item.

If you are dining out, again look for a "clean PC combo" meal that the kids will like. Examples: chicken or turkey or fish AND potatoes (baked or roasted) or rice or pasta. Go for non-cheesy or creamy sauces (to avoid high fat) and avoid fried items. Eating the P with the C keeps blood sugar levels stable and keeps little tummies satisfied longer.

Q: If you do have to eat fast food, what are three restaurants/menu items that are the lesser of the evils?

CA: As for fast food, no question about it, Subway is much lower in overall calories and saturated fats and higher in nutrients than any other place. You can nearly always have a great meal by going for fresh sandwiches at a deli. My recommendation is a turkey-avocado on wheat with everything but cheese and mayo -- but if kids don't want wheat that is fine. The main thing is to avoid doing a burger, fries and shake. You can also order healthy items at Taco Bell -- just order the "fresca" style items such as chicken or steak soft tacos. The third item is a catchall: the grilled chicken sandwich. You can always come out way ahead of a burger by ordering grilled chicken from any restaurant.

Avoid: shakes and anything fried (french fries, onion rings, fried chicken, jalapeno poppers, chicken nuggets).

Q: There are a lot of books out about how to hide veggies in common foods like brownies and cupcakes.  What's the secret?  What are common substitutes for ingredients like sugar, butter, oil, etc?

CA: There are several ways to add the moisture and creaminess that butter and oil give foods by using other ingredients such as pureed sweet potatoes or applesauce. The final outcome can be just as delicious. I think this is the wave of the future in cooking without question -- but each recipe is different. Here's one great example -- my gluten-free organic raspberry brownies. You'll never know they aren't made with animal fats.

One important thing to realize is that sneaking a tiny bit of pureed cauliflower into your kids' cookies is not a huge nutritional boost. It is also just slightly dishonest -- even if it is in a fun and playful way. I prefer to focus on real home-cooked meals every day and avoiding the drive-thru. New studies have shown that having dinner with the family every night drastically reduces the risk of childhood obesity -- probably because the food is just much lower in fat. Focus on the dinner and don't worry too much about putting broccoli into the brownies. If you are worried about your kids not getting enough essential nutrients, definitely give them a multivitamin (see below).

Q: Can you provide a recipe from your book that is healthy for kids and quick for parents?

CA: Try my 10-Minute Crispy-Chewy Chicken Soft Tacos. They were featured this week in Life & Style magazine and both kids and parents love them.

Christine Avanti is a Los Angeles-based nutritionist and healthy weight loss specialist. She has appeared on Dancing With The Stars, Tyra, Rachael Ray, The Today Show, E!, TV Guide, Fox Business Channel, and dozens of others. She is the author of Skinny Chicks Don’t Eat Salads and the creator of the Simply Slimmer® System, your nutritionist in a box.

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