Fitting Fast Food into Your Kids’ Healthy Life

Fast food is a fact of modern life. Rushing from one activity to another, picking the quickest and cheapest meal option, or responding to stress — parents are choosing fast food for kids more often than ever.

How can you fit fast food into your life without making unhealthy choices for your kids?

Is fast food good for kids?

In a word, no. Fast food is hardly ever the best option for kids nutritionally. Harvard Medical School reports that young children get an average of 160 extra calories a day when they have one fast food meal, while teens rack up an extra 310 calories. Studies have repeatedly shown that fast food consumption is likely to lead to obesity in children.

Studies have also found connections between high fast food consumption and increased chances of asthma, exzema, and other ailments as well.

Yet one third of American kids eat fast food on any given day. It’s part of their social lives, some of their favorite meals, and an element of family fun that’s hard to give up.

Recognize that fast food is going to be part of your family life, and take a couple of new approaches that can help.

Make it special

Instead of treating fast food as a regular meal, make it an occasional treat. Enjoy tacos or cheeseburgers as a special outing. Bring home fried chicken and pair it with fresh vegetables at your dinner table. Pick up a sandwich to add to fruit on a picnic when you go for a hike. 

As much as possible, move fast food into the “special” category and out of the “normal” category. That makes it easier to limit the frequency of your fast food forays.

Make good choices

Choose smaller portions when you order fast food. Kids’ meals and snack size portions can have fewer calories and less fat.

Choose healthier side dishes, too. While research has found that fast food entrees have the same calorie and fat counts they did a few years ago, there are new, healthier options on a lot of menus. However, a university study found that 91% of parents continue to choose fries and soda as the side dishes for their kids’ meals.

You have to buck the marketing pressure in restaurants to change that. Ads and signage in fast food restaurants encourage the purchase of sodas and fries, not salads or fruit. A kale salad at Chik-fil-A or applesauce at Subway can help balance your child’s meal, though. It’s worth making the effort. 

Here are some side dishes to choose:

  • applesauce at Burger King
  • apple slices at McDonald’s
  • fruit cup, kale crunch side, or side salad at Chick-fil-A
  • black beans at Taco Bell
  • baked potato or apple bites at Wendy’s

Just as your kids got used to meals with a Whopper or a Crunchtada, they’ll get used to matching their chicken fingers with a salad and apples. Make that your new normal.