5 Best & Worst Fast Food Kids Meal Options
A reader recently asked us about the healthiest fast food kids meal options and what preservatives are found in these foods. Luckily for all of us, most, if not all, fast food restaurants provide nutrition information publically. We visited five of the most popular fast food chains to figure out what their healthiest and least healthy options are. Note: We realize that the health value of a food is not solely determined by the number of calories it does or does not contain. When it comes to food – any type of food – it’s important to understand the nutritional value of what you’re eating. We reached out to Dr. Sean O’Keefe from Virginia Tech for more insight on what parents should consider when purchasing fast food for their children.
Dr. Sean O’Keefe recommends looking at total calories, calories from fat, and sodium content. For each of these, lower is better. Fast food chains don’t typically disclose ingredient information, but Dr. O’Keefe was able to shed some light on what we might find in various kids meal options such as hamburgers, chicken nuggets, French fries, etc. While ingredients vary depending on product and manufacturer, Dr. O’Keefe shares that sodium chloride, natural antioxidants and phosphates are additives you would normally expect to find in meat products. In reformed meat products such as chicken nuggets, you might find starches, gums, etc., used as a binding agent to keep the meat from falling apart. These are used in the same way you might use bread crumbs, flour, starch or eggs at home in a meat loaf. The phosphates found in meats are added for quality, water binding and retention, and can also act as antimicrobial agents, but this may not make much of an impact if burgers are made from frozen patties.
With regard to preservatives, propionic acid might be found in baked goods as a means of preventing mold. Aside from salt and flavorings, Dr. O’Keefe doesn’t expect to find many additives in French fries found on most fast food menus.
Below we’ve highlighted the best (lowest calorie) and worst (highest calorie) kids meal options from five different popular fast food chains.
Best option: Chicken McNuggets (190), Apple Slices (15), Go-GURT (50), Apple Juice (80) = 335 calories
Worst option: Cheeseburger (290), French Fries (110), Go-GURT (50), Chocolate Milk (130) = 580 calories
Best option: 4 pc Chicken Nuggets (190), Apple Slices (30), Apple Juice (80) = 300 calories
Worst options: Cheeseburger (270), French Fries (190), Chocolate Milk (160) = 620 calories
Best option: Grilled Drumstick (90), Green Beans (25), GoGo Squeeze Applesauce (60), Capri Sun Roarin Waters (30) = 205 calories
Worst option: Chicken Little (160), Mac and Cheese (170), GoGo Squeeze Applesauce (60), Milk (110) = 500 calories
Best option: 4 pc Chicken Nuggets (180), Apple Slices (40), White Milk (80) = 310 calories
Worst option: Cheeseburger (280), French Fries (220), Jr. Frosty (200) = 690 calories
Best option: Chicken Strips (220), Apple Slices (35), Apple Juice (90) = 315 calories
Worst option: Grilled Cheese (410), French Fries (280), Chocolate Milk (180) = 870 calories
For more information on healthy menu options for kids, check out the Kids LiveWell program from the National Restaurant Association.
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