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Is fast food really that bad for my family?

Do you really need those extra fries? © iStockphoto.com Do you really need those extra fries? © iStockphoto.com
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By Manuel Villacorta

Q: Our family is so busy, I often don't have time to cook at home. Is fast food really that bad for my family?

A: Research shows that kids consume an average of 55 percent more calories when they eat out than when they eat at home. While you should limit fast food to an occasional treat, it’s not a nutritional disaster if you make the right choices:

  1. Child-size it. Keep your kids’ portions under control by ordering the child-sized meals that were meant for them -- and try one yourself. Just this one move will cut half the calories and fat from your meal. Or share one order of fries with two or three people. This way, you still get to enjoy a little without a lot of calories. Still hungry? Order a side salad with low-cal dressing.
  2. Balance it out. Cut calories and increase nutrition by making some smart substitutions. Chowing down on a cheeseburger? Forget the fries and order a baked potato or salad instead. Can’t give up the fries? Order a grilled chicken salad instead of a burger.
  3. Skip the extras. Save major calories by saying no to toppings like cheese, bacon, mayo and special sauces on burgers; pepperoni, sausage and extra cheese on pizza; and bacon bits, tortilla chips, Chinese noodles and regular dressings on salads.
  4. Water it down. A large cola weighs in at 310 calories, all of which come from sugar. Regular and diet sodas also contain phosphorus, which can prevent kids’ bones from absorbing calcium, says Villacorta. The best bet for the whole family: water. 
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Manuel Villacorta, a registered dietitian with a master's in science, is a pediatric nutritionist in San Francisco. 

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