Encouraging healthy eating habits for your kiddo is not about being a Helicopter Parent (okay maybe a little). But when the house is a mess and there’s no time for dinner, what’s a mom or dad to do? Opt for fast food, of course.
But before you begin writing an angry letter to us about why fast food is no good for kids, hear us out. We know there are a lot of foods your little one shouldn’t be eating on a regular basis, especially ones that come from the drive-through. But, we also know it’s not always possible to cook your kids a meal with lean meat and leafy greens – and it’s even harder to make healthy meals sound remotely appetizing to them. Fortunately, the fast-food industry has come a long way over the years. It’s no longer only about greasy burgers and fries. There have been serious strides towards healthier, cleaner fast food options – ones that you’d feel comfortable feeding your kids.
Plus, there’s something about a meal nestled in a McDonald’s wrapper that makes a kid’s heart swell (even if it is grilled chicken) – so you might as well take advantage of the healthiest fast food items for kids.
20 of the Healthiest Fast Food Items for Kids
Just because something has fewer calories doesn’t automatically make it healthy. And, just because something is on our list does not mean it’s as nutritious as cooking up your own produce. However, these options are far better for your munchkin than most.
Subway may seem like an obvious option for the healthiest fast food for kids, but the restaurant has come under fire lately for serving foods with unhealthy, processed ingredients. After taking some time to revamp their menu, Subway relaunched the Fresh Fit for Kids menu with appropriate portions and healthy ingredients. Each sandwich on the kids’ menu comes with apple sauce and 1% low-fat white milk.
Turkey Breast Kids Meal, 160 calories
Turkey, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, red onions, and spinach on wheat bread; apple sauce, 1% low-fat white milk
Veggie Delite Kids Meal, 130 calories
Lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, red onions, and spinach on wheat bread; apple sauce, 1% low-fat white milk
McAlister’s is a great place to grab a healthy fast food meal whether you’re an adult or a kid. They have some of the most nutritious, tasty options for kids, and they’re ingredients are high quality and fresh. But what about convenience? We know that’s the name of the game when you’ve got a van full of kids and absolutely no “you time.” Fortunately, McAlister’s does have a drive-through at most locations – you just have to order your meal online first and swing by to pick it up.
Kids Chicken and Broccoli Bowl, 230 calories
Broccoli, broccoli cheddar soup, cheddar jack cheese, grilled chicken
Kids Garden Salad, 150 calories
Mixed greens, cucumbers, tomatoes, cheese, croutons and chicken, ham, or turkey
Del Taco is no Panera or Boston Market, but there are a couple of options that made the cut for our healthy fast food for kids list. None of those items, however, come from the Kids Menu itself. All kids meals at Del Taco are served with a side of fries – the entrees aren’t healthy by any means either – so we’ve opted for a couple of options from the regular menu that are a bit more nutritious.
Chicken Street Taco, 170 calories
Grilled chicken, roasted chile salsa, onions, cilantro, avocado, corn tortilla
Chicken Quesadilla Snacker, 190 calories
Grilled chicken, cheddar cheese, flour tortilla
It’s not a shocker that Boston Market offers healthy options for kids, and if your town is lucky enough to be blessed with one of these restaurants, you’ve got to take your kids there on the regular. They have some of the highest quality, healthiest food for families. Heck, we’d even order a full Thanksgiving Dinner from them.
Roasted Turkey Breast Kids Meal, 80 Calories
Slow-roasted turkey slices, fresh steamed veggies, cornbread, and drink
White Meat Rotisserie Chicken Kids Meal, 270 Calories
Quarter rotisserie chicken, fresh steamed veggies, cornbread, and drink
Chick-Fil-A is another fast food joint that prioritizes health…just as much as they prioritize our dying need for nuggets with Chick-Fil-A sauce. There’s only one option on the Chick-Fil-A kids menu that made our list, but they’ve got several healthy options on their regular menu, too.
Grilled Nuggets Kids Meal, 190-220 calories
Grilled Chick-Fil-A Nuggets, fruit side, and low-fat milk
Grilled Cool Wrap, 350 calories
Strips of grilled chicken breast, green leaf lettuce, red lettuce, cabbage, Monterey Jack cheese, and cheddar cheese in a flaxseed flour wrap; Avocado Lime dressing served on the side
Check out more Chick-Fil-A nutrition facts.
As you know, nearly everything at Chipotle is build-your-own, which is equally as beautiful and dangerous if you ask us. Calories, fat, sugar, and sodium add up fast when you pile on the toppings, so help your little one learn which toppings are healthy. Or better yet – order it for them, and they’ll never know the difference.
Build Your Own Kids Meal, 570 calories
2 Soft Tacos, Chicken, Brown Rice, Fresh Tomato Salsa, and Romaine Lettuce; side of fruit
Chicken or Veggie Salad, 445 calories
Grilled Chicken (optional), Romaine Lettuce, Brown Rice, Fresh Tomato Salsa
Panera’s kid’s menu is full of delicious options, but are they healthy? While you may have to stop your child from having a meltdown at the cash register, it’s a good idea to stay away from menu items like mac and cheese (yes we know it’s to-die-for), PB & J, and grilled cheese. They have little to no nutritional value, as much as we’d like to think they do. Also – careful with having your child fill up on soup. A cup of veggie or chicken noodle is fine, but anything will contain more sodium than you’d ever like to admit.
Kids Seasonal Greens Salad, 90 calories
Mixed greens, tomatoes, red onions, cucumbers, reduced-fat balsamic vinaigrette
Kids Turkey Sandwich, 280 calories
Oven-roasted turkey, cheddar cheese, whole grain bread
Pick Two – Half Bacon Turkey Bravo Sandwich + Cup of Ten Vegetable Soup, 380 calories
Sandwich – Turkey breast, bacon, Gouda, greens, tomatoes, sauce, tomato basil bread; Soup – Vegetable stock, tomato, peppers, onions, corn, carrots, poblano peppers
McDonald’s has healthy options for kids? Well, sort of, but don’t start telling your friends we encouraged you to feed your kids Happy Meals every day of the week. If fast food is on the menu for your family, then order one of the following options for your little one – they’re the least harmless.
Hamburger Happy Meal with Apple Slices, 475 calories
Hamburger patty, bun, onions, pickles, ketchup, mustard, fries, apple slices, 1% low-fat white milk
Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwich, 380 calories (without mayo)
Grilled chicken, bun, tomato, lettuce
While you’re making a much-needed coffee run, your back seat buddy might need a snack – and no, not a donut. Fortunately for parents everywhere, Dunkin’ serves delicious breakfast items all day long, and some of them aren’t half bad in the health department. Note that our options below contain egg whites and veggies. Fast food breakfast meat tends to be processed, fattening, and full of sodium.
Egg White Veggie Wake Up Wrap, 150 calories
Egg whites, mixed peppers, flour wrap
Veggie Egg White Sandwich, 240 calories
Egg whites, mixed peppers, mushrooms, onions, American cheese, English muffin
KFC doesn’t scream “healthy,” but there is one option on the menu that fits the bill. The Drumstick Kids Meal is clean, tasty, and just the right size for a hungry kiddo.
Drumstick Kids Meal, 240 calories
Grilled Chicken Drumstick, Applesauce, Green Beans, and 1% Milk
Healthiest Fast Food Items for Kids for Breakfast
Your little one may bat their eyes at you, pleading for BK’s French Toast Sticks, but hang in there. You are stronger than that. There are healthier options when you’re on the go in the AM, too. Here are a few of the most nutritious:
- Egg White Grill from Chick-Fil-A, 300 calories
- Greek Yogurt Parfait at Chick-Fil-A, 270 Calories
- Breakfast Soft Taco, Egg and Cheese at Taco Bell, 170 calories
- Oatmeal at McDonald’s, 290 calories
- Egg Bites at Starbucks, 170-310 calories
- Baked Egg Souffles, 480-570 calories
If your child isn’t a fan of any of the options above:
- You’ve got a very picky eater on your hands.
- You should check out the 12 healthy fast food options.