Fast Food on the Fly for the Healthy Kid

ID-100147069Some of my fondest childhood memories were at fast food restaurants. Whether it was the bright, happy meal packages at McDonald’s or the camaraderie of hanging out at Taco Bell with my teen-age friends, fast food joints were fun. Flash forward to motherhood and I gained a whole new appreciation for the drive-thru. Now, the endless days juggling appointments, meetings and kid activities mean that eating is often on the fly. I know better than to pick up a supersized chicken nugget meal with a side of grease and pound of sugar. But, I still am human and occasionally run late, forget to pack snacks or flat-out don’t have time to be uber-healthy. So, what does a health-conscious mom do when a quick pick up meal (for me and my son) is the only option? The answer is – choose smart.

In researching the menu items at different chains, I’ve found a few that are relatively wholesome and filling. Of course I strive to eat solid organic, fresh plant-based meals, so won’t make this a daily habit. These items aren’t perfect, but are better than vending machine choices or other cruddy fried favorites from the happy meal menus.

Fast Food on the Fly for the Healthy Kid

My Top Six Favorites for Fast Food on the Fly

1. Chipotle:
This is my favorite fast-food joint. The items are fresh, largely organic and made in front of you. A salad with black beans, brown rice and a heaping spoonful of mild tomato salsa is a high fiber and nutrient filled meal. The kid’s meals (tacos or quesadillas) are decent healthy options, just skip the chips. While they don’t currently have drive-thru windows, using their Chipotle app makes it easy to order and pick up quickly.

2. The Whole Foods Salad Extravaganza Bar:
It really isn’t just a salad bar; it’s a whole lot more. There are about four islands of pre-made fresh and cooked food ranging from soups and salads to ethnic meals and gourmet items. I prefer to build a big plate of greens with juicy olives, beans and fun grains. For kids, there are plenty of pre-made choices that change daily. Though the grocery store checkout line can be long, purchasing at the coffee bar or express line makes paying a lot easier.

3. Subway:
The slogan “eat fresh” is appealing, however know that it doesn’t apply to every item on the menu. Nonetheless, I’m still a fan. It isn’t organic and likely serves some genetically modified products (chips, pre-made breads, etc.) But, it is a good option for fresh vegetables when you are on-the-go. They make solid salads using real spinach leaves. Top it off with the salt and pepper mix, no dressing and it’s a healthy choice. (Adding avocado is also on the menu.) Their “Fresh Fit for Kids” meal includes apples, smaller sandwiches and Shamrock Farm milk (without added hormones.) Subway continues to grow franchises, many in highway rest stops, so a drive thru option could be available for an even quicker pick up.

4. Panera Bread:
Panera offers a slew of organic foods including cheese, milk and yogurt all well-loved by my five-year old. The rye bread is GMO-free and tastes yummy as a grilled cheese sandwich. The Mediterranean veggie with hummus (no cheese) on rye is a tasty lunch for those staying away from the nitrates in deli.

5. Wendy’s:
I’m not a fan of the sandwiches or even pre-made salads, but the baked potato dry is a solid clean eating staple. Adding sour cream, cheese or thick sauces diminishes any health benefits. So, I keep small packets of random condiments in my car. Organic dressings, mustards, ketchup and olive oil can be purchased from Minimus and are great for these fast food emergencies.

6. Boston Market:
While the sodium content in many of their dishes can be high, their healthy options seem to have the least ingredients and are made up of solid wholesome foods. Healthy and hearty menu items include white meat skinless rotisserie chicken, turkey breast, steamed vegetables and fruit.

What healthy options have you found as you are running around town?

Photo image courtesy of lamnee/freedigital Sources include company websites and Organic Authority.


  1. I love this post — on days when I don’t make time to pack a lunch, I often find myself choosing between quick options … Thanks for doing the research for me! There is a Pita Pit near my office that I hit up sometimes — good, fresh greens and vegetarian with a falafel option … I think it would pass the Pretty Wellness test ;-)

  2. Starbucks has bananas and often dried fruits or nuts. My kids once ate a fruit and cheese concoction they had and I am pretty certain they sell oatmeal too. Of course it is hard to resist the cake pops and other sweet treats!

  3. Caryn Sullivan

    Starbucks does have fresh fruit. I don’t think it is organic, but fresh fruit is better than the cake pop. Nuts can be a solid treat. Be careful of added sugars and salts, though. They do have organic milk, too. AP – I LOVE falafel especially baked not fried. Chick peas have a ton of protein. I’m thinking of trying to dehydrate them at home to see if they work as a handy snack.

  4. Great list! We just got a Chipotle here and my hubby and I love it. It’s hard to get our kids out of the nuggets and fries rut, but we don’t like to feed them that stuff if we can help it.
    Lauren recently posted…Five Ways Non-Foster Families Can Help Foster Families

    • I’m glad you like the list. Chipotle is one of our go-to restaurants when in a rush. It’s just too bad they don’t have a drive thru. Burger King sells those apple fries, so sometimes I will drive through Burger King to get just a few bags of apples and milk. Or, for myself, I will order a Wendy’s potato plain. I usually have Himalayan sea salt in my car and will just salt it. Happy holiday weekend.

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