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The American lifestyle is getting more and more rushed. Everything has to move fast to keep up with our jam-packed schedules — even our meals. Most families eat at a fast food restaurant at least once a week and many people have fast food several times a week. The convenience can’t be beat, but there is a downside. It affects children’s weight and overall health.

Are there any good fast food choices?

Eating high fat, super-sized meals can lead to our kids gaining too much weight. Our kids are taking in extra calories from soda and high fat foods and it shows. Fast food restaurants now offer smaller portions, more grilled chicken choices, kids meals with fruit and milk instead of fries and soda, and creative salads with bottled waters. Some of the fast food chains limit the salt and trans fats in kids meals. If there is no time to cook, you can order healthy items on the run.

Tips for ordering kid friendly food:

  • Order the smaller portion sizes
  • Pick milk or water instead of a soft drink
  • Choose grilled chicken items more often
  • Choose fruit or a side salad instead of fries.
  • Choose a baked potato topped with veggies instead of fries.
  • Ask for mustard and ketchup instead of mayonnaise or order food plain and add your own condiments at home.
  • Use very little salad dressing or ask for the low-fat or fat-free varieties
  • If you are taking the food home, order entrees only and fix your own side dishes, served with milk, water, or other low sugar drink.

Making Healthy Fast Food Choices

Typical Kid’s Meals:

The McDonald’s Happy Meal with a cheeseburger, small fries, and a 12 ounce soda has 640 calories and 24 grams of fat. If your child has a Quarter Pounder with cheese, medium fries, and medium soda, the calories jump to 1100 with 45 grams of fat.

Healthier fast food choices can still be high in calories, fat, and salt. However, they are much better than high fat kid’s meals. Encourage your child to choose the kid’s meals with a hamburger instead of the cheeseburger, apple dippers rather than fries, and low-fat chocolate milk instead of soda. This adds calcium and reduces the calories to 520 with 12 grams of fat.

Most restaurants offer healthy choices. Salads usually have no more than 200 to 400 calories before adding the dressing. If your kids like salads, suggest they order a grilled chicken salad instead of a burger. Choose the low-fat or fat-free dressings. Regular dressing can add 200 to 300 extra calories. Another option is to have your children order a garden salad instead of having fries.

The food choices listed below are some of the lowest in calories and fat offered. Menus change, so check the restaurant websites for updates on healthy options.

Healthier Fast Food Choices

Subway 6 inch Veggie Delite 230 calories/2.5 grams fat 6 inch Turkey Breast 280 calories/3.5 grams fat 6 inch Ham 290 calories/4.5 grams fat Mini Subs 200 calories/3 grams fat Salads 140 calories/3.5 grams fat Berry Lishus Fruizle 110 calories/0 grams fat Chicken Noodle soup 80 calories/2 grams fat Taco Bell Fresco Style (without cheese or sauce) Taco – beef 150 calories/7 grams fat Soft taco – chicken 150 calories/3.5 grams fat Tostado – regular 250 calories/10 grams fat Bean Burrito 350 calories/8 grams fat Cinnamon Twists 170 calories/7 grams fat McDonald’s Hamburger kids meal with apple dippers and milk 470 calories/12 grams fat Small hamburger 260 calories/9 grams fat Small cheeseburger 310 calories/12 grams fat Chicken McGrill 370 calories/4.5 grams fat Small fries 250 calories/13 grams fat Caesar Salad with grilled chicken 220 calories/6 grams fat Fruit & Maple Oatmeal with no sugar added 260 calories/4.5 grams fat Hot Cakes (no margarine) 520 calories/8 grams fat Kiddie cone 45 calories/1 gram fat Burger King Veggie Burger 320 calories/7 grams fat Tender Grill Chicken sandwich 380 calories/9 grams fat Whopper Jr. 260 calories/11 grams fat Small hamburger 260 calories/11 grams fat Kraft Mac&Cheese 160 calories/5 grams fat Tender grill chicken salad 300 calories/11 grams fat Apple Fries with caramel sauce 70 calories/.5 grams fat Wendy’s Kids meal with hamburger, Mandarin oranges and 1% chocolate milk 485 calories/11 grams fat Ultimate Chicken Grill 360 calories/7 grams fat Grilled Chicken To-Go Wrap 260 calories/10 grams fat Jr. Hamburger 230 calories/8 grams fat Large Chili 310 calories/9 grams fat Jr. Vanilla Frosty 180 calories/4.5 grams fat Pizza Hut Fit and Delicious Menu (1/2 the cheese and leaner toppings) 1 slice 150 calories/4 grams fat Hand tossed (1 slice, medium pizza) Veggie Lovers 200 calories/6 grams fat Cheese only 220 calories/8 grams fat Pan (1 slice, medium pizza) Ham and pineapple 230 calories/9 grams fat Veggie Lovers 230 calories/9 grams fat Thin and Crispy (1 slice, medium pizza) Veggie Lovers 180 calories/7 grams fat Ham and pineapple 180 calories/6 grams fat Cheese 190 calories/8 grams fat Pepperoni 210 calories/9 grams fat ________________________________________________________ *Sandwiches and salads listed above do not include mayonnaise, cheese, or salad dressing unless specified.

Where can I find menu and nutrition information?

Most large food chains provide nutrition information that list all menu items, and show total calories, grams of carbohydrate, protein, total fat, saturated fat, trans fats, and sometimes, food group portion sizes. Ask for information at the counter or go online to the restaurant’s Web site. The Web sites often include menus, nutrient lists, and easy to use calculators so you can see exactly what your children are eating and where you need to make changes. Some Web sites also have information about food allergies and diabetic exchanges. It has never been easier to select fast food meals to fit a healthy diet.

Burger King:
Pizza Hut:
Taco Bell:

Written by Terri Murphy, RD, CDE for RelayHealth. Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2011-08-22
Last reviewed: 2011-07-05 This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional. References
Pediatric Advisor 2011.4 Index
© 2011 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.