Food trucks: Healthy, big-city dining on the cheap

Feeding kids on a big-city trip can be tough: parents often face a choice between overpriced, grown-up menus (which set off kids’ complaint alarms) and the cop-out of a weeklong diet of pizza and chicken nuggets.

Happily, most cities now offer a healthier kind of fast food: food trucks. These eateries on wheels increasingly walk the line between creative, kid-magnet fare (tacos, burgers, rice bowls), and healthy, foodie sensibilities (fresh, lean and local ingredients). You can find them in fun parts of town (often with picnic-table seating) and the prices are family-friendly, too: typically under $10 (and often much less) per person.

And while food trucks may seem like literal moving targets, it’s surprisingly easy to find them. In a pinch, check your destination’s tourist board can usually direct you to a site or app for finding the best food trucks near your hotel, or along your day’s itinerary.

Here are five healthy-dining trucks we found in big cities that both kids and parents will love:

1. Portland: PBJs Grilled

(PBJs Grilled)

Portland, Oregon, may be the mother ship for food trucks: at its “Cartopia” at SE Hawthorne and 12th Avenue, you’ll find a giant, outdoor food court on wheels, featuring a variety of vendors that favor locally sourced, wholesome fare. Meanwhile, on NW 23rd, you'll find the peanut-butter-centric PBJs Grilled, where you can get the Sun Up (cinnamon raisin bread, granola, bananas and PB) or the Cynthia, with Nutella and raspberry jam. Foodies might consider the Spencer, with walnut butter, brie, capicola and caramelized onions. Nothings tops $7, either.

2. Boston: Clover Food Lab

(Clover Food Lab)

Serving pita sandwiches, summer salads, hand-cut French fries, and even homemade mayo and ketchup, this small fleet of 10 (and counting) comfort-food truck boasts that its food is so fresh they don’t even own freezers. You want to go green? They run their trucks on recycled vegetable oil. They do breakfast, too, from yogurt parfaits to PB-and-honey breakfast sandwiches for kids. You’ll find the white Clover trucks all over the city, including one at the New England Aquarium and another at the Boston Common. Prices range from $2 to $7.

3. Seattle: I Love My GFF

(I Love My GFF)

This whole-food gluten-free food truck that frequents farmers' markets will be a welcome sight for any family that needs to accommodate one person’s gluten allergy—but the whole family can eat here, too. Kids will like “sunshine bowls” filled with free-range chicken, quinoa and colorful veggies (starts at $7)—and a GF chocolate chip cookie ($1.50) for dessert. Bonus points: the entire menu is GMO-free.

4. Chicago: Starfruit Café

(Starfruit Café)

Vacation can wreak havoc on everyone’s digestion system—perhaps especially in a town known for decadent pizza. Starfruit offers a healthy alternative to the old-school ice cream truck: frozen kefir ($4), a thick fro-yo that comes in such flavors as chocolate, cherry, or birthday cake, but is packed with tummy-soothing probiotics. The truck changes locations, but there are brick-and-mortar Starfruits, too—including inside Wrigley Field.

5. San Francisco and Los Angeles: Let’s Be Frank

(Let's Be Frank)

These red trucks in both NorCal and SoCal offer grass-fed, hormone-free beef dogs and sausages for just $5 each—including "bird dogs” (turkey) and not-dogs (veggie)—and Dad can add spicy sauce or grilled onions if he dares. One L.A. truck parks in artsy Silver Lake, and you can find one of the San Francisco trucks at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge.

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