When you think about what constitutes a healthy meal, chances are you're not thinking of a burger and fries from your favorite fast food spot. However, a number of major fast food chains have recently taken the initiative to offer healthier menu options to kids -- including Burger King, McDonald's, and Subway. But it might make sense to look at the facts before you start feeding the kids Happy Meals four times a week.
Hours spent seeking nested calorie counts on fast food websites and tallying nutritional information on Excel resulted in a ranked list of healthiest and unhealhiest kids' meals based on caloric value. To find out how the menus stack up, we calculated the calorie counts of every possible meal combination on each kids' menu and then averaged them. Subway tops the list as the healthiest with an average of 372 calories per meal and Dairy Queen rounds out the bunch as the unhealthiest with a whopping 737 calories on average.
In Pictures: Healthiest and Unhealthiest Fast Food Kids' Menus
Aside from the emphasis on cutting calories, it's interesting to look at the healthy "trends" popping up on menus. Most notably, sliced apples or apple "fries" with low-fat caramel dipping sauce is the side of choice on four out of the ten menus featured in this list. With the exception of Subway, the rest of the chains have either replaced a small order of French fries with fruit, or added it in as a featured option.
While a serving of apples is certainly better for you and less caloric than French fries, there are other areas that are less black and white. When it comes to drinks for example, many chains are now offering low-fat milk with their kids' meals as an alternative to juice or soft drinks. From a strictly caloric standpoint, milk is heavier than most small soft drinks across the board, however the added nutritional value that it offers for children outweighs the empty calories that soda provides.
So, before you buy into any hype about "healthy" fast food kids' menus you may want to check out the dirty truth about their calorie counts.
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Average Kids' Meal Calorie Count: 372 calories Healthiest Meal: 345 calories Veggie Delite sandwich, apples, low-fat milk Unhealthiest Meal: 395 calories Roast beef sandwich, apples, low-fat milk Considering their health-conscious reputation, it's no surprise Subway has the healthiest kids' menu on this list. Their meals include a three-inch sandwich, apples, and milk. However, a corporate representative explained that some franchises will allow you to sub in chips or a soft drink. Related: 10 Non-Traditional Subway Restaurants
Average Kids' Meal Calorie Count: 390 calories Healthiest Meal: 350 calories Chicken tenders, apple fries, and low-fat milk Unhealthiest Meal: 430 calories Hamburger, apple fries, and apple juice Burger King is not taking its healthy makeover lightly. It's the only chain on this list that extended its initiative to its breakfast menu. In addition to the breakfast sandwich meal, options include either chicken tenders or a hamburger with apple fries and apple juice or milk. It does seem curious that the only place on Burger King's website to get a detailed description of its kids' meals is on their secondary Club BK site, one targeted at kids. Related: Taking on Junk Food Marketing To Kids
Average Kids' Meal Calorie Count: 414 calories Healthiest Meal: 360 calories Crunchy taco, cinnamon twists, and juice Unhealthiest Meal: 580 calories Bean burrito, cinnamon twists, and juice Taco Bell's menu is full of surprises — the bean burrito (traditionally considered a healthy choice) is the heaviest main component, and crunchy tacos have fewer calories than soft tacos. All options include a side of crunchy cinnamon twists and a juice box. Related: Taco Bell Beef Lawsuit Dropped
Average Kids' Meal Calorie Count: 441 calories Healthiest Meal: 260 calories Chicken strip, low-fat milk, and a fruit cup Unhealthiest Meal: 660 calories Chicken nuggets, low-fat chocolate milk, and fries One of Chick-fil-A's meal options includes a single measly chicken strip as the main component. What's that all about? That's a meal? That said, calorie-wise, it's interesting to note the difference a few nuggets and a serving of fries make. Related: Top Cities For America's Favorite Foods
Average Kids' Meal Calorie Count: 446 calories Healthiest Meal: 280 calories Chicken strips, string cheese, corn, and a Capri Sun Unhealthiest Meal: 663 calories Popcorn chicken, string cheese, potato wedges, soda Kids' meals at KFC are characterized by their quantity. Without doubt, this menu offers the largest combos, but not the heaviest on average. There are also a lot of choices, beginning with either a drumstick (grilled, original recipe, or extra crispy), strips, or popcorn chicken follwed by a choice of a small side, string cheese, and a drink. Related: 9 Fast-Food Dinner Party Fixes Slideshow
Average Kids' Meal Calorie Count: 502 calories Healthiest Meal: 283 calories Chicken nuggets, apples, and a soft drink Unhealthiest Meal: 623 calories Chicken sandwich, fries, and a soft drink The options available on the Wendy's kids' menu are pretty standard — the main choices are nuggets, a hamburger, or a cheeseburger along with either apples or fries. The real variety comes with the drinks; kids can choose from a wide variety of soft drinks or go for milk or a classic vanilla or chocolate Frosty instead. Related: News Analysis: The Future for Arby's, Wendy's
Average Kids' Meal Calorie Count: 527 calories Healthiest Meal: 380 calories Chicken McNuggets, apple dippers, and apple juice Unhealthiest Meal: 700 calories Cheeseburger, French fries, and chocolate milk McDonald's made headlines this week after announcing the details of its revamped kids' menu. The new and improved meals include either chicken nuggets, a hamburger, or a cheeseburger along with a choice of fries or apple dippers and low-fat milk, juice, or a small soft drink. Related: Fast Food Weddings
Average Kids' Meal Calorie Count: 556 calories Healthiest Meal: 410 calories Chicken strips, apples, and juice Unhealthiest Meal: 740 calories Grilled cheese, French fries, and chocolate milk When looking at a kids' menu that boasts options like corn dogs and cheeseburgers it's hard to believe the most gut-busting meal features grilled cheese. The real culprits here are the thick-sliced pieces of Texas toast that Sonic uses to make sandwiches. Equally surprising is that when it comes to choosing a side, an order of fries has 70 more calories than the same size order of tater tots (did you know that!). Related: Sonic's New Hot Dog Spices Up Popular Menu Line
Average Kids' Meal Calorie Count: 613 calories Healthiest Meal: 455 calories Ham melt sandwich, chips, and a soda Unhealthiest Meal: 773 calories Cheesy toasted cheese sandwich, cookie, and soda The meal options for kids at Quizno's include a combination of toasted sandwiches with cheese, ham, and turkey along with either chips or a cookie and a soft drink. Related: Food Icons on Twitter
Average Kids' Meal Calorie Count: 737 calories Healthiest Meal: 603 calories Chicken strips, applesauce, soda, and ice cream cone Unhealthiest Meal: 883 calories Cheeseburger, fries, soda, and a Dilly bar OK, so maybe it's not surprising that a chain known best for its ice cream has this list's most unhealthy kids' menu. The meals begin with a choice of chicken strips, hamburger, cheeseburger, or hot dog followed by fries or applesauce, and soft drink. Of course, a true DQ feast would not be complete without dessert, so kids have a choice of either a Dilly bar, ice cream sandwich, or cone. Related: Food Chains' Worst Summer Drinks Slideshow
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