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 selections, kids meals with a choice of fruit and milk instead of fries and soda, and creative salads with bottled waters. Some of the fast food chains are now limiting 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 request condiment packets
- Use salad dressing sparingly 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. The Mighty Kids Meals for older children offers double hamburgers or cheeseburgers and a 16 ounce soda. These meals provide 730 to 820 calories and 27 to 34 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 a big improvement over traditional kid's meals. Encourage your child to choose the kid’s meals that substitute a hamburger for 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 many healthy salads. Salads usually have no more than 200 to 400 calories before adding the dressing. If your kids like salads, encourage them to 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 small burger and a garden salad instead of having fries.
The food choices listed below are some of the lowest in calories and fat offered.
Healthier Fast Food Choices
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/8 grams fat
Soft taco - chicken 170 calories/4 grams fat
Tostado - regular 200 calories/6 grams fat
Bean Burrito 340 calories/8 grams fat
Cinnamon Twists 160 calories/5 grams fat
Meximelt 190 calories/7 grams fat
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
Hot Cakes (no margarine) 520 calories/8 grams fat
Kiddie cone 45 calories/1 gram fat
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
Kids meal with hamburger, Mandarin
oranges and 1% chocolate milk 485 calories/11 grams fat
Ultimate Chicken Grill 370 calories/8 grams fat
Grilled Chicken To-Go Wrap 260 calories/11 grams fat
Jr. Hamburger 270 calories/9 grams fat
Large Chili 280 calories/9 grams fat
Jr. Vanilla Frosty 150 calories/4 grams fat
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 complete menu and nutrition information?
Most large food chains provide nutrition analysis sheets 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: http://www.bk.com/en/us/menu-nutrition/index.html
Pizza Hut: http://www.pizzahut.com/Nutrition.aspx
Taco Bell: http://www.tacobell.com
Written by Terri Murphy, RD, CDE for RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2010-01-27
Last reviewed: 2010-01-11
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 health care professional.