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These Are the Healthiest Fast Food Kid’s Meals, Study Shows

Nutrition scientist Lauryna Nelkine selected the lowest-calorie kid's meal from popular fast-food chains, analyzing each to identify those with the highest nutritional value. Here’s what she found.
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By Wyndi Kappes, Associate Editor
Published March 6, 2024
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Image: A-photographyy | Shutterstock

All parents want the best for their kids. From the best schools to the best medical care and more, it’s a time-intensive process to ensure your kiddo is always getting the best and perhaps no avenue more so than nutrition.

Finding the time to make nutritious meals for your little one that they’ll actually eat can be difficult, and sometimes you have no option but to pick something up while out running errands, attending events and the like. But if you still want to offer your child the most nutritious options possible a new study may be able to help.

Nutrition scientist Lauryna Nelkine at HealthNews recently did a side-by-side comparison of the lowest-calorie kid’s meal options from some of America’s most popular fast food chains. In an effort to provide a broad overlook at what meals were the healthiest beyond just how many calories were in each meal, Nelkine analyzed every item in the meals to determine which meals held the most nutritional value overall.

At the top of the calorie count list is Wendy’s chicken nuggets kids’ meal. Coming in at 246 calories, the meal includes four pieces of 100 percent white-meat chicken nuggets, a side of apple bites and nutrient-plentiful milk.

While Wendy’s meal is relatively low in saturated fats compared to other chains like Popeyes and Sonic, it does pack the biggest sodium punch of all meals on the list, hurting it’s nutritional value, especially compared to number two Chick-fil-A, which serves its five-count chicken nuggets grilled instead of fried. Chick-fil-A’s kid’s meal complete with a small fruit cup and milk, also boasts 17 grams of protein, the highest among the meals studied.

In third, Subway takes the cake for its vegetarian friendly Veggie Delite sandwhich, paired with milk and GoGo squeeZ Apple Apple fruit pouch, all coming in at 295 calories. Subway’s kid’s meal boasts minimal saturated fats and is the lowest sodium option.

Finally, rounding out the top five are Popeyes’ four-piece nuggets with applesauce and apple juice at 340 calories and Quizno’s Triple Cheese kids meal with grilled cheese on wheat bread, applesauce and milk, at 345 calories.

Nelkine notes that determining the nutritional value of a meal isn’t always cut and dry. To find the best option for your child, you should consider what is most important to you and your family. Whether that be vegetarian meals or those with low sodium and high protein. You can see the top 10 lowest-calorie meals ranked below, with notes on their nutritional value to consider in your search.

Image: Courtesy of Healthnews

Nelkine also adds that it’s important to recognize that fast food should be more of an occasional treat rather than a staple in your child’s diet. When enjoyed in moderation, even the “most unhealthy” fast-food meal is unlikely to have a significant impact on your child’s health.

Whether your kid loves nuggets or is a big grilled cheese fan, there’s nothing wrong with letting them indulge in their favorites every now and then. Just try to squeeze some veggies and fruits in when you can! Need help convincing your picky eater to branch out? Consider these pediatrician-recommended tips!

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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