When you think of healthy dining choices for your children, chances are that fast food isn’t the first thing that comes to mind — there are countless nutritional pitfalls to avoid on fast food kids’ menus. In recent years, however, some of the more popular fast food chains have begun providing healthier alternatives to the classic burger-and-fries combo. In fact, according to the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, the number of possible kids’ meal combinations available at these restaurants has increased 54% between 2010 and 2013.
With water and juice, fruits, and leaner cuts of meat on the menu, fast food restaurants now allow children to enjoy their food without the same degree of health risk. That said, fast food chains still have a long way to go: Many options remain perilously high in calories and fat, and it’s important to make the correct decisions when it comes time to eat.
Here are the very best and worst in kids’ nutritional options from America’s five favorite fast food chains.
McDonald’s devotes an entire section of its website to nutritional choices, specifically, nutritional choices for children. According to Jeff Stratton, president of McDonald’s USA, McDonald’s Happy Meals have automatically included apple slices since March 2012, a change that has resulted in 20% fewer calories in all of the most popular Happy Meal choices.
Opting for the four-piece white meat nuggets, apple slices, low-fat strawberry yogurt, and apple juice will put your child’s meal at a reasonable 335 calories and 12.5 grams of fat — as fast food aficionados know, you could do much more damage to your system with this menu. Take, for example, a cheeseburger Happy Meal with a side of yogurt and a chocolate milk: this selection will total out at 580 calories and 16.5 grams of fat.