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