Busy Schedules, Eating Out, and the Impact on Health

This is the next installation in our series of blogs that address the many external factors that contribute to childhood overweight and obesity

This monthly series will continue through the end of the year while we shine a light on the impact different behaviors make in weight and health. Previously, we discussed screen time and how it can steal time away from physical play and cause overeating, we’ve explored portion sizes and how they have increased in recent years, and we’ve looked at physical activity and discovered many children aren’t getting enough. Today we’ll learn more about the impact of grabbing unhealthy food on the go and ways you can plan ahead to make healthier choices easier.

Kids are back in schools, which means families have tight schedules and can be rushed and often in the car around meal times. Grabbing a quick bite on the road might seem like a good solution – it can be appealing for the convenience – but can become an unhealthy habit.

Car at a fast food drive through

This month’s blog focus is on an increased frequency of eating away from home and the availability of highly processed sugar and carbohydrates. When we say “eating away from home,” we don’t mean when you pack your lunch for work. We are talking about the last-minute drive-thru at a fast-food restaurant or the sugary snacks offered at kids sporting events.  When you are in a hurry and you need to eat cheaply and quickly, it’s tempting to pull up to the drive through for some fries or even grab a can of pop at a nearby vending machine, but these items are not only bad for your body, they won’t actually satisfy you for any length of time. The high carbohydrate and sugar levels on these items spike your blood sugar, but due to the general lack of protein and fiber in these food items your body digests them quickly, thus causing a quick drop in blood sugar shortly after, often making us feel hungrier than we were before, leaving us crabby, groggy, or even tired.  The main concern with increased frequency of this type of eating away from home, as well as the high fat/sugar content of these highly marketed and easily available snacks, is that it has been proven to increase overall mortality rates.

A young boy drinking a glass of water
Water is the best beverage choice when you’re thirsty!

We can help you with two different solutions. The first is committing to snack and meal preparation before you’re on the road and in a hurry. Pack a lunch and snacks for throughout the day, including high protein and high fiber items as well to help you feel full longer. The second solution is for those days and times that preparation isn’t and stopping for a snack or meal is your only choice. If you need a quick snack, try getting some fruit like and apple or banana even – the higher fiber content in this will help stabilize your blood sugar to prevent those “sugar crash” feelings. Another great option is a protein source, you could buy a premade protein shake, or get something like grilled chicken nuggets rather than breaded and fried. The high protein content will help you feel full for longer. Jump IN’s Resource Hub has a handy tool for helping make healthier choices when you’re picking up fast food. And if you’re grabbing a snack at a convenience store, we have a tool for that too.

A green lunchbox with a healthy sandwich, orange, nuts, and a couple of small tomatoes

What about drinks? Often fast food meals come with a soft drink choice, most of them sugar-filled. Rethink your drink is a program aimed at reducing the serving and consumption of sugar sweetened beverages. A 20 oz. soda has 15 teaspoons of sugar, and many servings are larger than 20 oz. Try swapping out that Coke or Gatorade with a water next time. Not only will you reduce your intake of added sugars, but you’ll also increase your hydration level and decrease your risk for many chronic health conditions.

The CDC has many pages of tools that can help you make healthy choices. Here’s a quick reference from one of them to assist you in advance healthy meal planning:

Meals on the Go:

For the places where you might grab a snack or have a meal on the go (such as the car or at your desk), make sure you have nutritious snacks available or at home that you can take with you. For example:

* “Grab-and-go” fruits: apples, oranges, bananas, canned fruit without added sugars, and raisins
* Washed and chopped fresh vegetables: celery, carrots, and cucumbers
* Low-fat and fat-free milk products: yogurt without added sugars, milk, and low-fat cheeses
* Whole-grain crackers and breads
* Protein choices such as low-fat deli turkey slices or almonds and other nuts and seeds

a selection of healthy snack foods including pretzels, cheese cubes and apples

With a little planning ahead and a commitment to look for healthy options, you can make healthy choices easy choices.