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Fast Food for Kids: Healthy Options When You Must Hit the Drive-Thru

fast food for kids

Healthy fast food for kids does exist, you just have to look. Credit: El Gran Dee

If you’ve ever taken a road trip with a youngster, you know of the inevitable drive-thru dilemma. What on earth can I feed my child that’s not ridiculously unhealthy? It’s probably not quite as much of a dilemma if you have a kid who is well into toddlerhood—an occasional kid’s burger or nugget meal won’t derail your child’s health as long as it’s occasional. But in my 10-hour road trip situation, my daughter wasn’t even 12 months old; I was so not down with a kid’s meal or drive-thru burger at that point.

I brought bananas, Cheerios and other kid-friendly munchables, but I knew that she’d probably require something else at some point. For parents in the same situation, I’ve compiled a list of a few of the healthiest fast-food items for kids. Bonus? They’re also good for adults!

Fast Food for Kids: The Options

Wendy’s. I love Wendy’s for the occasional burger (and, let’s be honest, Frosty), and the chain’s chili is freaking delicious, filling and low-cal. But it’s got some good kiddo options, too. Best kid items include a plain baked potato and the apple slices. Other options for the older kiddo include a 180-cal four-piece nugget and a 250-cal kids burger.

McDonald’s. If you’re under the golden arches, go for the 35-calorie apple dippers as a snack. The Fruit & Walnut Salad includes apples, grapes and a little side of yogurt, but young’uns might need to opt out of the candied walnuts. The nuggets and burgers are comparable to Wendy’s; if getting a kids meal, opt for a milk or juice instead of the soda, and choose a side of apples instead of those fries. My award for best new item goes to the Fruit & Maple Oatmeal. This 290-calorie breakfast item is filling and so good you won’t believe it’s fast food.

Panera. Okay, so not a drive-thru, but it’s one of my favorite places for fresh, tasty soups and salads, and it’s one place you won’t feel guilty for taking your kids. Some of the kids’ items are surprisingly high-cal, like the 410-cal PB & J and the 490-cal mac and cheese, but the chain offers organic yogurt for kids and side items like apples and whole-grain baguettes. The garden vegetable soup and chicken noodle soup are tasty options kiddos will love.

Chipotle. I’ve always loved Chipotle for the fresh ingredients and the customization of your meals. For kids, you’re really only limited by your imagination. You can always get a single taco, a quesadilla or they’ll give you a tray so your picky eater can either keep ingredients separate or build their own taco creation. With fresh ingredients like tortillas, rice, cheese, black and pinto beans, and various meats, even picky eaters can find an item or two they’ll munch.

What healthy fast-food options have you found for your kids while dining out? Any favorite places you don’t feel bad taking the kids? —Erin

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  1. Sylvia says:

    We are always taking road trips to California and those 16 hours drives split in two defintiley require some drive through or eating out. We ALWAYS make sure we stop at an Ihop along the way. They have a fantastic healthy kids menu with their regular menu. Plenty of fruits, pancakes, eggs, turkey bacon and what not to choose from. Plus they are open at any time you feel like making a pit stop.

    We of course stop at In n Out and we kind of throw caution to the wind because we don’t have them in Oregon. Oh, how I miss In n Out and didn’t realize I’d miss it this much when I moved to Oregon.

    The other place that is a must is El Pollo Loco. They offer some of what I consider reasonably healthy options for kids.

  2. Dany says:

    Moved to California from the southeast so I was more than happy when a chic-fil-a moved into our neighborhood. They always have a clean play place, with grilled nuggets, applesauce, fresh fruit cup, and milk and juice options. We get there at least twice a month just for fun.

  3. Delilah says:

    Amy’s Drive Through and Starbuck’s are the only fast food we ever eat.

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