The 5 Best Fast Food Picks for Kids

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

Whether it's a family road trip, hitting up the drive-thru after soccer practice, or grandparents sneaking the kids out to eat for a special treat, 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 emphasize fresh fruits and milk over fried foods and sugary drinks. Despite these upgrades, many items remain far from healthy eats.

Kid portions do tend to be smaller than the adult counterparts, but most are still inflated beyond what most children need. Many meals can run up to 1,000 calories per serving, with fat and sodium content typically well-above desired levels.

Because many of the ingredients are inherently processed and overly seasoned, the sodium content will almost always be higher at typical 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 they're also 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 five orders rose to the top.

Chick-fil-A

According to Business Insider, Chick-fil-A, a massively popular chicken shack, is the third largest fast food chain in the United States. It should come as no surprise that the kids’ menu features chicken strips and 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 milk or juice and a "special surprise."

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 6-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 to see Ronald, pass on the fries and chocolate milk and order that Happy Meal with a hamburger, apple slices, 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 365 per serving. It’s also noteworthy that this meal includes more than 600 milligrams of sodium, which is about 20% 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 plenty of fresh and healthy options like avocado toast or chicken tenders, or sides such as buffalo cauliflower bites, homemade applesauce, and baked plain or sweet potato fries.

Chains like this prove that healthy, fast, and kid-friendly food is possible.

Wendy’s

When dining with the kids at Wendy’s, opt for the 4-piece chicken nuggets with apple slices and milk. Though it might take some convincing, encourage your kid to skip the sugary dipping sauce—the unnecessary extra calories can really add up and should therefore remain a “sometimes” food.

Subway

This ever-popular submarine sandwich shop offers several smaller portioned “mini” sandwiches for little hands to enjoy.

The Fresh Fit Kids menu allows little ones to pile veggie toppings onto ham or turkey sandwiches; veggie subs are also a choice on the menu.

Sandwiches on the kids’ menu are accompanied by low fat milk or a juice box and applesauce, plus a fun toy as a bonus. Complete meals average about 500 calories per serving, depending on which sandwich you order.

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4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Vikraman S, Fryar CD, Ogden CL. Caloric Intake From Fast Food Among Children and Adolescents in the United States, 2011–2012. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics; 2015.

  2. Urban LE, Roberts SB, Fierstein JL, Gary CE, Lichtenstein AH. Sodium, Saturated Fat, and Trans Fat Content Per 1,000 Kilocalories: Temporal Trends in Fast-Food Restaurants, United States, 2000-2013Prev Chronic Dis. 2014;11:E228. doi:10.5888/pcd11.140335

  3. Taylor K. Chick-fil-A is the third-largest fast-food chain in America, and that should terrify Wendy's and Burger King. Business Insider. 2020.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Reducing Sodium in Children's Diets. Updated September 5, 2018.