As fast food marketers are constantly telling you, the drive-thru is fast, cheap and easy (no cooking required!). What they’re not telling you is that the kids’ meals they’re selling—often with the appeal of toys and favorite characters—are loaded with unhealthy fats, sugar and salt.
Some healthy fat is part of a balanced diet, but the fats found in these kids’ meals are almost all saturated fats, the unhealthy kind. They can lead to obesity, heart disease and high cholesterol. When kids develop a fast food habit in childhood, they can end up taking it—and the health problems it causes—into adulthood.
Finding nutrition information in a fast food restaurant isn’t always easy, so our dietitians analyzed dozens of menus and identified some of the worst fast food kids’ meals. Check out what our dietitians found hiding in these meals, and don’t be fooled by the pictures of smiling families, happy kids and cheap prices.
Dairy Queen’s tagline is, “Fan food, not fast food.” We’re not huge fans of this DQ kids’ meal that includes a hot dog, french fries, mini Oreo Blizzard filled with fudge, small root beer and 3 packets of ketchup. Based on the nutrition stats, DQ must be fans of fat-, salt- and sugar-laden meals.
That mini Oreo Blizzard contains more than 13 teaspoons of sugar. Once you add a small root beer, the meal contains 27 teaspoons of sugar. That’s like eating 54 sugar cubes! Plus, the entire meal has 45 grams of total fat, about as much as you’d find in 11 pats of butter. The 1,938 milligrams of sodium is more than a child should consume in an entire day!
Zaxby’s calls its menu “indescribably good.” We can think of other ways than “good” to describe the high blood pressure and headaches that could come with its Kiddie Cheese® meal like the one we ordered, which includes a grilled cheese sandwich, crinkle fries, 12 ounce fruit punch, cookie and 1 packet of Zax sauce.
A child who ate 16.5 pats of butter and 30 sugar cubes for lunch would consume the same amount of fat (67 grams) and sugar (59 grams) as one who ate the Kiddie Cheese® meal. They would also have consumed all the sodium they should have for the entire day, with this meal coming in at 2,165 milligrams. Indescribably good? More like indescribably junky!
Captain D’s promises you “the Taste of the Coast.” We don’t know about that, but it’s certainly serving up the taste of fat and salt. This kids’ meal includes two kids’ chicken tenders, french fries, macaroni and cheese, a 12 ounce sweet tea and 2 packets of ketchup.
This meal contains a whopping 65 grams of fat. That’s the same amount of fat you’d find in 16 pats of butter. Your kiddo will also be eating 11 full teaspoons of sugar (equal to 22 sugar cubes). The sodium content comes in at 2,240 milligrams, which is well over the recommended amount of 1,500 milligrams for an entire day.
Burger chain Hardee’s may call its kid’s meals “Cool Kids Combos,” but the nutrition facts on them aren’t so cool. This meal includes a kids’ cheeseburger, kids’ natural cut fries, a 12 ounce Sprite, a cookie and 3 packets of ketchup.
With 50 grams of fat and more than 17.5 teaspoons of sugar, this meal is comparable to 12 pats of butter and 35 sugar cubes. The sodium content is a whopping 2,185 milligrams. That’s more than the amount your child should have all day. Not cool!
Sonic likes to say it’s “Happy Hour Any Time” at its drive-in restaurants, featuring curbside service and eye-catching sugary drinks. Unfortunately, you probably won’t be happy when we tell you what’s in its kids’ meals. We ordered the kids’ 3-piece chicken strips, small tots, small Famous Blue Raspberry Slush, 1 BBQ dipping sauce and 2 packets of ketchup.
Your curbside carhop will be serving up that kids’ meal with 14.7 teaspoons of sugar (equal to 30 sugar cubes), 23 grams of fat (equal to 5.5 pats of butter) and 1,560 milligrams of sodium (just over your child’s needs for the entire day). Dinner hour at Sonic is looking a little less happy now, right?