Putting Dad in charge of dinner is the most likely factor leading to families eating out at restaurants, a new study finds.

Traveling with parents is the next most influential factor, followed by a father's perception of the importance of a family dinner, said study researcher Alex McIntosh, a professor at Texas A&M University.

Parental work variables such as Mom and Dad working 9-to-5 jobs -- are also influencing factors, McIntosh said.

Eating out, while enjoyable, can strain wallets and health.

American families are already known to spend half their food budget in restaurants, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. And eating out can also lead people to consume extra calories.

One study, published in January in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, showed that meals eaten in restaurants contain more calories than may be reported.

Therefore, it's important to identify the factors that influence people to eat out, especially at fast-food restaurants, McIntosh said.

However, "there is nothing intrinsically wrong with going out for meals," McIntosh told MyHealthNewsDaily. "Restaurants, particularly those that have healthy children's meals, ought to be pursued. Parents, particularly fathers, need to become more aware of the nutritional values of various foods."

This will become easier as more and more restaurants provide nutritional information on their menus , he said. Right now, only chains will be required to provide nutritional information, "but hopefully nonchain restaurants will begin to do this on a voluntary basis," he said.

McIntosh's research is based on interviews with parents and children (ranging from ages 9 to 15) of 312 families in Houston. Interview questions determined parenting styles, parents' perception of family meal time and parental work schedules.

While dads eating out are the biggest factor influencing kids to also eat at restaurants , "it is not entirely clear why dads are eating out more frequently, other than for business reasons," McIntosh said.

The study is published in the May/June issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

Pass it on: Dad's eating-out habits are the biggest influence for kids' eating-out habits.

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