A Realistic Mom’s Guide to Fast Food

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mash: parenting / health


It would be nice to think that McDonald’s will never cross my son’s lips. Nice, but unrealistic. Unless I plan on having him right next to me, 24/7/365 for the next 18 years, a rouge grandma, a rushed husband, or a well-meaning caretaker is going to shove a Mickey Dee’s fry in his mouth. I know McDonald’s has a target on my son. And while I’m not a organic, no-GMOs, vegan obsessive mom, I appreciate clean living, having a balanced healthy view of food, and of course, actually recognizing the food that’s going into my mouth. Regular trips to certain fast food places just don’t lend themselves to that. So I have created a realistic guide to fast food to make healthy choices easier.

The USDA says that a two year old should have 1 cup of fruit, 1 cup of vegetables, 3 ounces of whole grain, 2 ounces of protein, and 2 cups of dairy per day. To give you an idea of what that equates: 1 banana, 2 small ears of corn, 2 slices of whole grain bread, 2 eggs, 2 string cheeses, and a cup of milk.  The Institute of Medicine says 1400 calories is the maximum for a child of two. The NHS says 2 grams of sodium per day will do it.  While sound in theory, this doesn’t always work out in practice with 2 years-olds who have their own idea of what they want to eat.

So, what’s a girl to do? In a modern, on the go society a realistic parent that cares about their children’s health should plan for the eventuality that you’ll need to grab a quick bite while out in the street. And while none are perfect, and nothing beats a home cooked meal, here are 5 good choices for an on-the-go-meal. When I did my research I considered: calories, fat, sugar, the amount of each food group present, the “kid friendliness” of the meal and chain.

Chick fil A
I love what I define as “whole foods”… basically food left relatively intact without things added or taken away and that is easily identifiable. Chick fil A hits this right on the head.

My son’s favorites off of the kid’s meal consists of a grilled 6-piece nugget kid’s meal , a fruit bowl (which most recently included orange pieces, apple and strawberry slices, and whole blueberries), and box of juice. The meal helps a child meet the fruit requirements of the USDA and over 25% of the protein requirements. All with only 3 grams of fat. The down side is all that sugar, 30 grams. But, I weigh in the kid’s toys and the indoor play space for him to run off some energy in a confined space, and for a treat, I might be OK with this meal.

Panera Bread
Like most kids my son loves Mac and Cheese and Panera’s is exceptionally good. A bowl of it can hold him for a few hours. Even in all it’s delectableness, it’s only 490 calories. It also has 25% of the daily protein requirements. A tube of yogurt on the side helps fulfill that diary requirement for children at only 60 additional calories. Again, an apple juice box is offered helping with the fruit serving. The downside is all those yummy pastries that he is sure to see. And while I don’t think a cookie will hurt, there is no where for him to run off some steam. However, since I eat at the same place he does, and Panera is healthy for mommy too, they make the list.

Pei Wei
Fast food that’s cooked right in front of you in pots and pans and everything? Brilliant. A kid’s chicken lo mein is one of several options the chain has. In fact, their kid’s menu is almost identical to the adults, just in smaller portions. That’s a plus since the kid’s meal will look just like the adult meals, kids won’t feel left out. Mr. Mashed Up loves the Honey Chicken. The kid’s portion of Honey Seared Steamed Chicken is 590 calories, 4 grams of fat, and 31 grams of protein. That’s a great thing. The down side would be in directing him towards these options. Some of the options you think would be healthy aren’t necessarily the wisest choice. For example, the steamed Kid’s Sesame Vegetables and Tofu sounds great– but is actually pretty awful in the grand scheme of daily intake (2150 milligrams of sodium is not OK for one meal). But, with a little wise directing, kids can be led to some great choices.

I love Quesadillas. My husband loves burritos. We are a Chipotle’s type of family. And that’s OK when it comes to little man’s health. A kid’s chicken quesadilla, with a side of brown rice,  black beans and chips isn’t so bad. It’s around 590 calories, 24 grams of fat, and 26 grams of protein (almost half the requirement for the day). The downers are definitely the sodium content. This meal is about 43% of the recommended value. They also don’t give out toys. My son likes toys, so this is a definite strike against them. However, when in a rush, the order ahead option can’t be beat, and it’s pretty close to homemade, so it gets a spot on the list.

Subway restaurants have been touting their healthy, fresh fit choices for a while. They recently joined the Partnership for a Healthier America. That means that all of their meals will be “less than or equal to 600 calories, including no artificial trans fat, less than 10% of calories from saturated fat and less than 935 mg of sodium” and “all meals provide 1⁄2 cup fruit equivalent; and 3⁄4 cup vegetable equivalent”.  Plus, Subway tends to include toys or other giveaways with their kid’s meals. Well, you can’t beat that. The only downside is that I’m a bit skittish when it comes to where my cold cuts come from. I’m a Boar’s Head snob. But, on the run, this is a great choice–and Subway’s meats and fresh baked bread taste great.

NOTE: The opinions contained in this post are unsolicited, uncompensated, and purely the personal opinion of the author. The nutritional information related to these meals was taken directly from the restaurant’s websites.

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