The Scoop on Food

Traveling? Better Fast Food Options for Kids

Here are some health hacks for better mid-travel meals. 

fast food burger and fries africastudio/
If your seasonal plans include traveling by plane, train or automobile, it's likely you and your kids will experience at least a few moments when you're hungry but find that the pickings (let alone nutritious ones) are slim.

Of course it's always wise to plan ahead and arm yourselves with at least a few smart, portable, non-perishable travel snacks to have in-between meals (or just in case). A few better bets include nuts and nut butters; unsweetened dried fruit; high fiber, lower sugar whole grain ready-to-eat cereals; whole grain crackers; and low sugar granola and snack bars. But when it's time for a real meal—and for those times when you find fast food to be among the few (if any) options—how do you help your kids choose the most nutritious, energizing picks?

The following restaurants participate in the Kids LiveWell Program, a collaboration between Healthy Dining and the National Restaurant Association. The program works with restaurants to provide more menu options that emphasize lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy and that meet stringent nutritional criteria. Each full kids' meal (includes an entrée, side option and beverage) includes items from at least 2 food groups and meets the following Healthy nutrition criteria defined by the Kids LiveWell Program: 600 calories or less; ≤35% of calories from total fat; ≤10% of calories from saturated fat; <0.5 grams trans fat (artificial trans fat only); ≤35% of calories from total sugars (added and naturally occurring); and ≤770 mg of sodium. Each side option must represent 1 food group and meets the following Kids LiveWell nutrition criteria: 200 calories or less; ≤35% of calories from total fat; ≤10% of calories from saturated fat; <0.5 grams artificial trans fat; ≤35% of calories from total sugars (added and naturally occurring); and ≤250 mg of sodium.

The good news is that dozens of chains including Wendy's®, Burger King® and Au Bon Pain® participate. Here are some the better-for-you bets if these outlets are among your options:


  • Kids' Meal that includes a Grilled Chicken Go Wrap served with Apple Slices and TruMoo Low Fat White Milk.
  • Kids Meal that includes a Kids' Hamburger served with Apple Slices and TruMoo Low Fat White Milk.

Other side options available include Juicy Juice® Apple Juice and Nestle® Pure Life® Bottled Water.

You can learn more about Wendy's nutrition here.

Burger King®:

  • Kids' Meal Breakfast Oatmeal with BK® Fresh Apple Slices and Fat Free Milk
  • Kid's Hamburger with BK® Fresh Apple Slices and Fat Free Milk

Other available side: Apple Juice

You can learn more about Burger King® menu items and nutrition here.

Au Bon Pain®:

  • Egg Whites and Cheddar Breakfast Sandwich

Other side options available include: Oatmeal, Fruit Cup, Grapes or Watermelon.

Visit the Au Bon Pain® menu here.

Although McDonald's is not part of the Kids LiveWell Program, it recently announced (as I covered in a recent Scoop on Food post) it'll offer a side salad, fruit or vegetable option in place of French fries in value meals and will promote and market water, milk, and juice instead of soda as the beverage in Happy Meals. Also notable is that Happy Meals now include apple slices. McDonald's also offers some favorites under 400 calories. Options your kids might like include:

  • Fruit and Maple Oatmeal (I recommend asking for it made without brown sugar or light cream)
  • Fruit 'N Yogurt Parfait—a  low fat vanilla yogurt layered with blueberries and strawberries and topped with granola.
  • Premium Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken, served with Newman's Own® Low Fat Family Recipe Italian Dressing (You can save some fat and calories by using only a half packet of dressing).

Visit the McDonald's® menu here.

Subway® offers Fresh Fit for KidsTM meals that pair Turkey Breast, Veggie Delight, Black Forest Ham or Roast Beef sandwiches with fresh apple slices and a 12-ounce bottle of low fat milk. They also offer 100% juices including apple and orange juice. There are also Fresh Fit® choices (options that can work for older kids with bigger appetites and adults) certified as heart healthy by the American Heart Association. You can see the Subway menu here.

Last but not least, there's Dunkin Donuts®. Although pickings are indeed slim at the popular donut/bagel chain, Dunkin Donuts® may be (somewhat) worth the trip because of their DDSmart and Fewer Than 400 (calorie) options including:

  • Egg White Veggie Wake-Up Wrap
  • Egg & Cheese on English Muffin

You can see their complete menu here.

To make better fast food selections all around, you can download the Kids LiveWell App (it's free) here. It features more than 4,000 menu items served at more than 60,000 participating restaurants across the country.

And for more tips to save money when you shop for healthier fast food, check out this video with Parents health director Kara Corridan.

What's your favorite nutrient-packed (or at least not-so-bad-for-you) fast food meal?

Image of mother and son having a meal in the airplane while flying via