20 Best Kids-Menu Dishes

From the hundreds of options at America's biggest sit-down and fast-casual chains, these kids' meals stand out for their higher-quality ingredients, creative use of fruits, vegetables, or whole grains, and reasonable levels of sodium and fat.

Hard Rock Cafe's Chillin' With Chicken Salad Yunhee Kim

Carrabba's Whole-Grain Spaghetti With Spinach (220 calories, 3g fat, 463mg sodium)

Even picky eaters won't be able to detect that this pasta is whole grain -- it's not dark-looking or dense-tasting. It's tossed with steamed spinach and tomato sauce that's made in the restaurants daily. (241 locations in 31 states)

Panera Bread's Kids Garden Vegetable Soup With Pesto (90 calories, 4g fat, 560mg sodium without a side)

The chain expanded its kids' menu last year, adding child-size 8-fluid-ounce portions of its popular soups. This tomato-based creation contains zucchini, Swiss chard, yellow beans, cauliflower, bell peppers, and barley. It's topped with nut-free basil pesto. Kids can choose from squeezable organic yogurt, an apple, a roll, or a baguette as a side. Panera offers an ingredients list for its dishes online and has pledged to eliminate artificial colors by next year. (1,800-plus locations in 45 states)

Bonefish Grill's Grilled Tilapia (240 calories, 14g fat, 557mg sodium with green beans)

Three ounces of lightly seasoned fresh tilapia -- flown in several times weekly -- is wood-grilled and served with a side of steamed green beans tossed in olive oil. While kids are waiting for their meal, they can doodle on the craft-paper tabletops. (200 locations in 37 states)

Hard Rock Cafe's Chillin' With Chicken Salad (330 calories, 10g fat, 500mg sodium without dressing)

A mix of chopped lettuces, shredded cheese, chicken cubes, and carrot sticks served on a guitar-shaped plate -- this new salad rocks. Your kid's choice of two dressings (like honey mustard and ranch) is poured into slots within the plate for dipping. (47 locations in 27 states)

TGI Friday's All-Natural Chicken Sandwich (320 calories, 17g fat, 410mg sodium without a side)

The chain recently switched to chicken without growth hormones, which it marinates in lemon juice, olive oil, and garlic. Served on a special bun for gluten-sensitive kids, this sandwich comes with a choice of sides. Opt for the fruit cup, typically a mix of strawberries, pineapple, and mandarin oranges. (500-plus locations in 41 states)

Jason's Deli's J.D. Nuggetz (170 calories, 6g fat, 480mg sodium without a side)

Made exclusively for the chain, four antibiotic-free, cornmeal-coated chicken fingers come with organic apple slices or organic baby carrots and choice of a drink, such as an organic-milk box. (250-plus locations in 29 states)

Cosi's Kids Flatbread Pizza (250 calories, 10g fat, 395mg sodium without a side)

The secret to this healthy pizza is in the crust: flatbread baked daily in the chain's brick oven. What's more, the pizza is customizable. Add veggies or a protein, skip the cheese, opt for whole-grain flatbread, use pesto instead of tomato sauce -- it's all possible. It arrives at your table cut into small rectangles, making it easier for little ones to eat. Your kid can decide between a mixed-fruit cup or baby carrots for the side. (108 locations in 17 states)

Uno Pizzeria & Grill's Pick-A-Pasta (300 calories, 3g fat, 280mg sodium for penne with tomato sauce)

Kids can choose their pasta shape, type of sauce, favorite veggies (like broccoli or mushrooms), and even ask for chicken to create a custom bowl of yumminess. If your kid skips veggies, he'll still get some anyway -- there are carrots and onions in the tomato sauce. (140-plus locations in 24 states)

Zoí«s Kitchen's Chicken Salad Sandwich (440 calories, 25g fat, 620mg sodium for sandwich only)

A smaller, crustless version of a regular menu item, this sandwich is filled with chicken salad -- made in-house from white-meat chicken, mayo, celery, and seasonings. It's served with orange wedges. (131 locations in 15 states)

Mimi's Cafe's Turkey Dinner (220 calories, 6g fat, 730mg sodium without a side)

It can always be Thanksgiving for kids at this chain, which serves house-roasted turkey with stuffing and gravy (use just half of the gravy to scale back on 150 milligrams of sodium). The kids' meal includes apple slices or steamed broccoli. (107 locations in 18 states)

    How to Eat Healthy: Raising Nutrition-Smart Kids

      More healthy restaurant dishes

      Red Robin's Chick on a Stick (136 calories, 2g fat, 398mg sodium without dip or sides)

      Plain grilled chicken breast? Blah. Grilled chicken pieces on an ice-pop stick? Fun! The chain serves three chicken sticks with a choice of dipping sauce (request the light ranch rather than the regular one) plus a choice of a side. (500-plus locations in 38 states)

      Ruby Tuesday's Create Your Own Garden Bar

      The chain's popular salad bar is actually one of the entrées on the kids' menu -- and little ones can make a meal out of it. It features protein-rich lettuce toppers (like hard-boiled eggs and turkey ham) plus fun choices (shredded Parmesan and sunflower seeds). Kids can snag finger foods too, such as edamame and pepper strips with light ranch dip. (750 locations in 45 states)

      Red Lobster's Snow Crab Legs (90 calories, 1g fat, 790mg sodium without a side)

      They're a smaller version of a popular adult-menu item. Kids receive a half pound of wild-caught snow crab legs along with orange wedges or steamed broccoli. Although the meal's sodium content seems a little high, don't sweat it; much of it occurs naturally in the crab legs, which are a great source of other hard-to-find minerals. (705 locations in 48 states)

      Lyfe Kitchen's Tofu Taco (289 calories, 14g fat, 506mg sodium without a side)

      This chain, known for a wide selection of vegetarian and vegan choices, offers a kid's taco filled with marinated tofu, veggie slaw, and avocado wrapped in a warm corn tortilla. It comes with a side of baked sweet-potato fries or fruit. (15 locations in 6 states)

      Houlihan's Mini Cheeseburger (317 calories, 17g fat, 541mg sodium without a side)

      Creekstone Farms, where no antibiotics or growth hormones are used, supplies the beef for this small burger served on a brioche roll. Opt for fresh fruit or pineapple brown rice as a side. Plus, kids receive carrots and light ranch dip to start the meal. (77 locations in 20 states)

      P.F. Chang's Sweet & Sour Chicken (300 calories, 11g fat, 400mg sodium without sides)

      Antibiotic-free chicken is used to make this dish, which is served with brown rice and the sauce on the side for dipping. If you want to avoid the breading on the chicken, ask to substitute steamed chicken. Order an extra side of veggies for your kids. (200-plus locations in 25 states)

      Rubio's The Original Fish Taco (310 calories, 20g fat, 350mg sodium without sides)

      Sustainable wild Alaskan pollack is battered, topped with cabbage and a sour cream-based sauce, and wrapped in a non-GMO corn tortilla. If your child will eat fish that isn't fried, ask to substitute grilled mahimahi or tilapia. Kids can pick two sides from choices such as applesauce, rice, and black beans. (190 locations in 5 states)

      Chipotle's Two Taco Kit (380 calories, 16g fat, 350mg sodium)

      This chain, known for its support of local farmers, allows kids to choose three fillings, including one meat (all of the choices are antibiotic-free) to fill up two taco shells. The nutrition info is for two crispy corn tacos with steak, veggies, and cheese plus kid-size chips. (1,800 locations in 40-plus states)

      Moe's Southwest Grill's Moo Moo Mr. Cow (257 calories, 11g fat, 404mg sodium)

      Kids can choose their own ingredients -- from grass-fed beef to all-natural chicken, mushrooms to bell peppers -- for the chain's child-size burrito that's rolled in a flour tortilla. (The nutrition info is for one with chicken, black beans, lettuce, pico de gallo, and cheese.) The meal also includes tortilla chips and salsa, a kid-size drink, and a cookie. (582 locations in 37 states)

      True Food Kitchen's Almond Butter, Apple, and Banana Sandwich (365 calories, 19g fat, 113mg sodium without a side)

      You won't go wrong with anything on the children's menu at this restaurant cofounded by health guru Dr. Andrew Weil, but this creamy and crunchy whole-grain sammie is a popular pick. It's served with carrot sticks with a side of tzatziki for dipping. Ingredients are seasonally and locally sourced. (10 locations in 6 states)

      Copyright © 2015 Meredith Corporation.

      Originally published in the March 2015 issue of Parents magazine.