The 5 Best Fast Food Picks for Kids

Making Healthy Choices at Fast Food Restaurants

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According to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly 35 percent of kids ages 2 to 19 eat at fast food joints on any given day. In a fast food world filled with gimmicky toys, fried foods, and drinks filled with added sugars, is it possible to make a healthy choice?

Whether it's a family road trip, hitting up the drive thru after soccer practice, or grandma and grandpa sneaking the kids out to eat behind your back, here are smart picks to look for at five popular fast food restaurant chains.

A Note on Nutrition Facts

Many fast food chains have expanded their kids’ meal offerings beyond just greasy burgers and fries. Menus now list fresh fruit and milk instead of fried foods and sugary drinks. Despite these upgrades, many menu items remain far from healthy eats.

Kiddie portions do tend to be smaller than the adult counterparts, but most are still inflated beyond what most children need. Most meals come in at more than 400 to 500 calories per serving, with fat and sodium content typically above desired levels. Since many of the ingredients are inherently processed and overly seasoned, sodium content will always be higher at fast food restaurants.

To avoid an overload of salt, check menus online ahead of time and choose the lowest sodium options available. As a general rule, skip extra salty foods like chips and French fries. These foods are undeniably tasty but equally high in calories and fat without many nutrients to offer.

While it is not impossible to find sensible foods at fast food restaurants, it certainly is challenging. After scanning the menus at numerous popular fast foods joints, these 5 orders rose to the top.

Chick-fil-A

According to research conducted by Business Insider, this massively popular chicken shack is a top pick all over the country.

It should come as no surprise that the kids’ menu is all about chicken nuggets.

The best pick on the menu features a combo of finger-friendly grilled chicken nuggets accompanied by a choice of applesauce or a fruit cup, along with an Honest Kids juice box. If grilled nuggets aren’t going to cut it for your kids, the more traditional fried chicken nuggets are lower in fat and calories than the third and final menu option of “Chick-n-Strips.”  The total calorie count for a 9-piece fried nugget meal is 190 calories per serving.

McDonald’s

It’s the cold hard truth that some parents don’t want to face. Most kids end up at the “golden arches” every once in a while. If you do stop and see Ronald, pass on the fries and chocolate milk and order that Happy Meal with a hamburger, fruit (choice of apple slices or Clementine), and plain low-fat milk.

Just skipping the kids’ size fries will save 110 calories and 5 grams of fat. Even without the fries, this meal provides plenty of calories, coming in at 370 per serving. It’s also noteworthy that this meal includes more than 600 milligrams of sodium, which is 25-percent of the daily recommended value.

b.good

This lesser known fast food outlet has locations up and down the east coast and overseas.

These restaurants specialize in scratch burgers, salads, baked fries, and locally sourced fruits and vegetables.

Menu specifics change seasonally and vary by location, but no matter which place you visit, kids can choose from fresh options including grilled cheese (made with local cheese) with sides like broccoli, homemade applesauce, and baked plain or sweet potato fries. Chains like this prove that healthy, fast, and kid-friendly food is possible.

Wendy’s

Food is often well received by children when it’s wrapped in a flour tortilla. When dining with the kids at Wendy’s, order a grilled chicken wrap with apple slices and milk.

The chicken wrap is a novel hand-held meal but does contain more than 600 milligrams of sodium and therefore should remain a “sometimes” food.

Subway

This increasingly popular sandwich shop offers several smaller portioned “mini” sandwiches for tiny hands to enjoy. The Fresh Fit Kids menu allows little ones to pile veggie toppings onto ham, turkey, and roast beef sandwiches; veggie subs are also a choice on the menu.

Sandwiches on the kids’ menu are accompanied by an Honest Kids juice box and apple slices and complete meals average about 400 to 500 calories per serving, depending on which sandwich you order.

Sources:

Vikraman et al. Caloric Intake From Fast Food Among Children and Adolescents in the United States, 2011–2012. NCHS Data Brief No. 213. 2015,

Rega S. Animated map shows the most popular fast food restaurants in every state. Business Insider. December 5, 2016.

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