Fast Food

The unhealthiest fast-food kids’ meals

It’s a fact of life: kids love fast food. For kids, nothing beats a trip to McDonald’s, with its familiar smells, friendly clown-faced mascot, and, if they're lucky, a play room. But the best part? The Happy Meal, with its perfectly portioned meal and a box that you can scribble on. And the toy, of course. 

But just because a meal is intended to be eaten by children doesn’t mean that it’s healthy, and not laden with fat, calories, and sodium. We tracked down the unhealthiest kids’ meal combos at popular fast-food chains, and they’re not always the ones you’d expect.

The first kid-oriented fast-food meal was introduced by the now-defunct chain Burger Chef in 1973. Called the Funmeal, it was a huge success, and six years later McDonald’s introduced a kids’ meal of their own, called (of course) the Happy Meal (Burger Chef sued McDonald’s for stealing the idea, but lost).

Burger King, Wendy’s, and other major chains followed suit, and by the time the 1990s rolled around it seemed like every chain had their own special kids’ meals, and their popularity led to the image of fast-food joints as the most child-friendly restaurants around and no doubt also led to the nation’s increasing waistlines.

The main problem with kids’ meals, however, was that they offered little to no nutritional value, and were usually just a burger or chicken nuggets, small fries, and a soda. Parents eventually realized that it was unwise to feed their kids such unhealthy food (or at least some of them did), and within the past few years the chains have begun to take notice.

Taco Bell did away with its kids’ meal this past summer, and just about every chain has made efforts to offer apple slices instead of fries, low-fat milk instead of soda, etc. The main entrée, however, is still usually something junky like a cheeseburger, chicken fingers, or hot dogs, and kids can still get fries and a Coke if their parents let them.

Try as fast-food chains might, the majority of their child-oriented offerings are still anything but healthy. To prove it, we looked up the kids’ menus at the leading chains and put together the unhealthiest kids’ meal combos they offer. 

While Subway’s is legitimately healthy, the rest really don’t measure up. So the next time you’re at a chain with the little ones, keep in mind that you can toss apple slices into a Happy Meal, but that doesn’t negate the calories in a cheeseburger.

  • 1. Dairy Queen

    Dairy Queen

    Dairy Queen

    Cheeseburger, Kids’ Fries, Milk, Dilly Bar

    Fat: 49 grams
    Calories: 980
    Sodium: 1,665 milligrams

  • 2. Jack in the Box

    Jack in the Box

    Jack in the Box

    Chicken Sandwich, Kid’s French Fries, 2 Percent Milk

    Fat: 35.5 grams
    Calories: 760
    Sodium: 1,290 milligrams

  • 3. Sonic



    Grilled Cheese, Tots, 1 Percent Chocolate Milk

    Fat: 32.5 grams
    Calories: 790
    Sodium: 1,810 milligrams

  • 4. KFC



    Lil’ Bucket with Chicken Little, Macaroni and Cheese, 2 Percent Milk, Applesauce

    Fat: 30 grams
    Calories: 710
    Sodium: 1,600 milligrams

  • 5. Wendy's



    Kids Cheeseburger, Small Fries, Jr. Original Chocolate Frosty

    Fat: 29 grams
    Calories: 710
    Sodium: 1,060 milligrams

    For more of the unhealthiest kids' meals, check out the full list.

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