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Fast Food

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

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

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

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 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:
Pizza Hut:
Taco Bell:

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.

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