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Where's the Real Meal?

Finding restaurants with better kids' choices

Friends often marvel at how well my 2½-year-old daughter eats.

She likes vegetables — especially carrots, cucumbers and green beans — hummus, black beans and rice and almost any kind of fruit. She loves skim milk and won’t drink sugary juices.

Perhaps her tastes are innate, but we also work hard to foster healthy eating.

We cook balanced meals at home and shun fast food. We do like to go out occasionally, but we’re picky about where we go.

Too many restaurants offer only the cliché (and unhealthy) kids’ meals: chicken fingers, hot dogs, hamburgers, French fries and macaroni and cheese. When did these become acceptable choices for kids?

My daughter has never had a hot dog. She’s eaten chicken fingers once or twice — and didn’t like them — and has had an occasional hamburger, French fries and macaroni and cheese.

Maybe you think I’m depriving her but there are tasty, healthy alternatives to this junk, kid food.         

That’s why we have a few favorite places to go, some of which are in Cleveland Heights and Beachwood.

Tops on our list is on Cedar Road at Fairmount. We love the food there.

Julia and I often share a strawberry, banana and milk smoothie and enjoy a hummus appetizer with the family.               

For dinner, she often gets what we call a “grilled cheese” but is really pita bread with melted cheese on top. Granted, it’s not the healthiest meal possible, but it’s acceptable on an occasional night out.

Aladdin’s also offers kid’s grilled chicken and rice. It’s so refreshing to see grilled chicken instead of fried.

We also like to go to on Coventry Road, which has lots of healthy choices for adults and kids. (Confession: We love their milkshakes, too.)

Panera Bread on Richmond Road in Warrensville Heights is another favorite spot, mostly for lunch. Julia likes the organic yogurt they serve with kids’ meals. A special treat is either Dewey’s pizza on Lee Road or Chick Fil’A in Beachwood Mall.

Yes, Chick Fil’A serves fried chicken, but it’s not the McDonald’s chicken nugget variety. It’s fried in peanut oil and tastes much, much better. And she can get fruit with her chicken instead of French fries.

I’m amazed at how many times cashiers ask: “Regular milk?” when we order milk for her. Yes, regular milk. Why drink the sugary chocolate milk?

Before you dismiss me as a nutrition nazi, know that Julia enjoys cookies and ice cream, too. There’s room for treats in life but having only sugary, high-fat choices for kids at most restaurants stinks.

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