Posted by: TTCLauren | September 2, 2012

Fast Food Kids Meals – Are they really what you think?

I was invited recently by one of my customers to attend a presentation by two moms– one a Certified Holistic Health coach and the other a Health Educator.  Their mission was to share tips on healthy lunches for kids.  

A pediatrician who opened the presentation, sadly said that he no longer uses the words “overweight,” but instead refers to his ‘chubby patients’ as “pre-diabetic.”   He then pulls out his prescription pad and writes “eat more real food” on it and gives it to the parents, explaining that ‘real food’ means something that doesn’t come out of a box or bag.

Ironically, I then stumbled across an article rating the ‘kids meals’ at various fast food restaurants.  Those places that the school buses stop when taking the kids on field trips or to/from sporting events.   The places parents frequent when they’re in a hurry and need to ‘feed the kids something’  in between errands, lessons, practices, scrimmages, and the like.   

A number of these fast food chains such as Burger King, McDonalds, and Subway,  are jumping on the healthy eating bandwagon and endeavoring to offer healthier menu options to kids.   Besides cutting calories, new trends include offering apple slices, yogurt, and low-fat milk.    Apples are certainly better for you and have fewer calories than fries, and although milk may have more calories, it adds important nutritional value.  But don’t buy into the ads touting healthy fast food options for kids unless you plan to look closely before you order–especially if you let the kids ‘substitute’ cookies for the apple slices and soda for the milk! 

The writer ranked the healthiest and unhealthiest kids’ meals at 10 different chains based on posted caloric values.   Subway topped the list with an average 372 calories per meal, (which is no surprise since they do promote their entire franchise as being based on health), while Dairy Queen sat at the bottom with a whopping 737 average calories.   Here are the results of his research:

  •  SUBWAY:   Their kids menu includes a three-inch sandwich, apples, and milk.     Healthiest:  Veggie Delite with 345 calories.   Unhealthiest, Roast Beef with 395 calories.
  • BURGER KING:  It’s the only chain on this list that extended its healthy choice options to its breakfast menu as well.    Healthiest option:  Chicken tenders, apple fries, and milk  (350 calories).       Unhealthiest is the hamburger, apple fries, and apple juice at 430 calories.   Overall, their average kids meal has 414 calories.
  • TACO BELL:     Healthiest option:  Crunchy taco, (which has fewer calories than the soft tacos), cinnamon twists, and juice for 360 calories.    Unhealthiest choice:  Bean burrito (which you would normally consider a healthy choice), cinnamon twists, and juice (580 calories)
  • CHICK-FIL-A:     Average kids meal calorie count is 441.    The healthiest option is a single chicken strip, with milk and a fruit cup for 260 calories.  The unhealthiest choice is chicken nuggets, low fat chocolate milk, and fries, at a whopping 660 calories.
  • KENTUCKY FRIED CHICKEN:     The KFC menu offers the largest number of items in their combos.   Healthiest meal at 280 calories, are chicken strips, string cheese, corn, and a Capri Sun.  Unhealthiest option is popcorn chicken, string cheese, potato wedges, and soda (663 calories).  Overall, the average kids meal calorie count is 446. 
  • WENDY’S:     The average calorie count for the kids meal options is 502 calories.    The healthiest option is chicken nuggets, apples, and a soft drink (283 calories).   The unhealthiest combo would be the chicken sandwich, fries, and soft drink at 623 calories.
  • MCDONALDS:    McDonalds recently announced a revamped kids menu.   The average calories on their kids meal menu is 527.      The healthiest choice with 380 calories  is Chicken McNuggets, apple dippers, and apple juice.   The highest calorie combo is a cheeseburger, fries, and chocolate milk, offered with 700 calories.
  • SONIC:     The average meal has 556 calories.     The healthiest meal is chicken strips, apples, and juice for 410 calories.    Or, for 740 calories, you can select the UNhealthiest meal combo, consisting of a grilled cheese, fries, and chocolate milk.    Considering their kids menu has options like corn dogs and cheeseburgers, are you surprised to find that a basic grilled cheese sandwich ranks the highest in calories?  Might be the thick Texas toast.   Another note, is that their fries have more calories than their tater tots.     
  • QUIZNOS:    Weighing in at an average 613 calories per kids meal, this popular sandwich shop offers toasted sandwiches, soft drink and a choice of either chips or a cookie.   Based on that, their healthy choice:  Ham melt sandwich, chips, and soda at 455 calories.  Really!    On the flip side, the Cheesy toasted sandwich, cookie, and soda combo offer a hefty 773 calories.
  • DAIRY QUEEN:     Known more for ice cream than lunch, it’s not surprising that they make the bottom of the list as far as a healthy kids menu.   Their average kids meal contains 737 calories.   The best possible combo is chicken strips, applesauce, soda, and an ice cream cone for 603 calories.  Ouch!     The worst?   Cheeseburger, fries, soda, and a Dilly Bar with a scale-tipping 883. 

So the next time the kids ask you to turn the car into the local fast food joint because they’re hungry and you’re in a hurry…remember this!   If you’re expecting a long day on the road, or have a jam packed agenda with the kids, why not plan ahead and pack a cooler with fruit, cheese, water bottles, protein bars, yogurt, and sandwiches, so you can avoid those unhealthy detours and still keep your schedule…and full tummies too!


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