Top 10 Worst Kids' Meals

Imagine it’s your child’s birthday. You’ve spent months planning a big party, and you’re blowing it out with a whole passel of gifts—all 10 of the toys on your kid’s wish list. Sure, it cost a lot, but how awesomely happy is the little tyke going to be?

Except, once your little he or she unwraps the presents, something goes terribly awry. Nearly half of the toys you spent your hard-earned money on are broken, worthless junk. The Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots won’t rock or sock, the Mr. Potato Heads are total lemons, and the Barbies all come with Ke$ha’s wardrobe.

You’d feel like a real failure as a parent, right? Not to mention a total dupe for buying all that useless garbage.

Well, every time you take your children to eat at your local fast-food joint, you’re getting pretty much the same treatment. A 2010 study published by the American Dietetic Association found that nearly 40 percent of the calories consumed by kids are empty calories. Forty percent of their food is worthless! And instead of one bad day of broken toys, our kids are being set up potentially for a lifetime of obesity and all the dangers that come with it.

The good news? As a parent, you can fight back and turn those numbers around. How? Simply banish these terrible dishes, compliments of the brand new Eat This, Not That! 2012 edition, from your child's diet—and swap in some delicious foods that will keep your child happy, healthy and fit.

Now that's a gift worth giving!

Applebee’s Kids Oreo Cookie Shake
780 calories
41 g fat (26 g saturated)
97 g carbohydrates

Though Applebee’s doesn’t say so in its nutrition guide, we have a sneaking suspicion that nearly all of those 97 grams of carbohydrates are pure sugar. That’s an insulin spike that would make a diabetes specialist cringe. (Not to mention your dentist.) Your child would have to eat 15 Oreos to match this shake’s caloric heft. Better off going with chocolate milk. Or, better yet, a single scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Drink This Instead!
Kid's Chocolate Milk
270 calories
6 g fat (3 g saturated)
45 g carbohydrates

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KFC Kids Meal with Popcorn Chicken, Potato Wedges, and Pepsi
800 calories
37.5 g fat (8 g saturated)
1,755 mg sodium

Fried chicken is almost always trouble, but the Potato Wedges constitute this meal’s biggest calorie portion. And its most dangerous. Despite the Colonel’s high-profile PR campaign touting its trans fat-free menu, these wedges are loaded with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, the precursors to the perilous fats.

Eat This Instead!
Kids Meal with Grilled Chicken Drumstick, Mashed Potatoes (no gravy), and Capri Sun Roarin’ Waters Tropical Fruit Juice Drink
250 calories
9.5 g fat (3 g saturated)
725 mg sodium

The Cheesecake Factory Kids Grilled Cheese Sandwich
810 calories
N/A g fat (21 g saturated)
1,656 mg sodium

Bread and cheese toasted into a warm, comforting meal. What’s simpler than that? Well, the Factory shows it can ruin a simple favorite by oversizing every aspect of the sandwich. Its version is built with two thick slices of heavily buttered bread that bookend an even thicker layer of gooey cheese. This is just one of the many reasons the chain has for years resisted releasing comprehensive nutrition guides (the state of California forced them to release saturated-fat stats). The Grilled Chicken is the best alternative, but even that is far from healthy.

Eat This Instead!
Kids Grilled Chicken
510 calories
N/A g fat (16 g saturated)
1,204 mg sodium

SINISTER SANDWICHES: Protect yourself by steering clear of these 30 Worst Sandwiches in America.

The Cheesecake Factory Kids Southern Fried Chicken Sliders
820 calories
N/A g fat (10 g saturated)
2,049 mg sodium

When the Factory unveiled its kids’ menu in 2009, its chief marketing officer said it was an effort to offer meals that fit kids’ unique “portion size requirement.” On the surface, these sliders fit that bill. But if their size is humble, their nutritional numbers are not. These deep-fried slabs of chicken carry two days’ worth of a child’s sodium and more calories than a kid would get from eating 17 Chicken McNuggets.

Eat This Instead!
Kids Grilled Chicken
510 calories
N/A g fat (16 g saturated)
1,204 mg sodium

McDonald’s Mighty Kids Meal with Double Cheeseburger, Fries (small), and 1% Chocolate Milk Jug
840 calories
37 g fat (14 g saturated, 1.5 g trans)
1,460 mg sodium

The Golden Arches should be commended for increasing the number of healthy options in recent years. In particular, the chain now offers Apple Dippers in every Happy Meal. Unfortunately, fries are still the norm, making it incredibly easy to construct a lousy meal at McDonald’s. (Side dishes can be just as dangerous—if not moreso—than entrées ! Here's all the proof you need: The 10 Worst Side Dishes in America.) This burger, fries, and milk combo chews through more than a half day’s worth of calories, fat, and sodium. You might get a toy in the box, but you also get a lot of empty calories.

Eat This Instead!
Happy Meal with Hamburger, Apple Dippers with Low-Fat Caramel Dip, and Apple Juice Box
450 calories
9.5 g fat (3.5 g saturated, 0.5 g trans)
570 mg sodium

Friendly’s Dippin' Chicken Salad
950 calories
50 g fat (12 g saturated)
1,880 mg sodium

It’s great when a child's excited about a salad. But not when it's this one. First, this isn’t so much a salad as a fried chicken dish with a few token veggies packed into a cone. Friendly’s just doesn’t know when to stop. On the side of the deep fried meat are bowls filled with croutons, cheese, and a honey mustard dipping sauce, which itself has 15 grams of fat. You end up with a “salad” that has more fat than three Snickers bars! (And that's hardly the only bad salad in America. Check out the corrupt greens we discovered in the 20 Salads Worse than a Whopper.)

Eat This Instead!
Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Mandarin Oranges
370 calories
17 g fat (9 g saturated)
900 mg sodium

California Pizza Kitchen Kids Curly Mac n' Cheese with Edamame
1,088 calories
N/A g fat (33 g saturated)
750 mg sodium

Whereas most kid favorites—chicken fingers, cheeseburgers, even hot dogs—offer some redeeming nutritional value, macaroni and cheese brings nothing but cheese, cream, and refined carbohydrates to the table. CPK appears willing to solve that problem with the inclusion of protein- and fiber-rich edamame in its mac, but instead it stuffs its kiddy bowls to the brim with one of the most calorie-dense pastas we’ve ever seen. Another good opportunity squandered by the restaurant industry’s penchant for excess.

Eat This Instead!
Kids’ Fusilli with Tomato Sauce
561 calories
N/A g fat (1 g saturated)
1,021 mg sodium

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Outback Steakhouse
Joey Spotted Dog Sundae
1,216 calories
94 g fat (58.5 g saturated)
89 g carbohydrates

Nothing’s more fun than seeing a small face transformed into a Jackson Pollack painting of ice cream and chocolate. So don’t douse that joy with the bucket of guilt that comes with feeding your child more calories than two McDonald’s Quarter Pounders with Cheese. This sundae has nearly four days’ worth of saturated fat, which is fitting because the only way you should order it is with four spoons for sharing. Until Outback offers a decent dessert on its menu, either skip the sweet stuff or ask for a scoop of ice cream.

Eat This Instead!
Vanilla or Chocolate Ice Cream (1scoop)
* Outback doesn’t offer calorie counts for this, but you should have no trouble ordering it at any location.

On the Border Kid’s Cheese Quesadilla with Mexican Rice
1,220 calories
75 g fat (31 g saturated)
1,930 mg sodium

On the Border’s kids’ menu mostly offers reasonable Mexican fare, but this cheese quesadilla, along with the nachos, stands out as a disturbing outlier. How the chain veers so far off course with this item, we don’t know. Is it overloaded with cheese, or is the chicken poached in butter? Whatever the case, this quesadilla and rice provide more calories than should be in two kids’ meals and enough sodium to cure a whole hog.

Eat This Instead!
Kid’s Mexican Plate with Crispy Chicken Taco
260 calories
12 g fat (4 g saturated)
530 mg sodium

The Cheesecake Factory Kids Pasta with Alfredo Sauce
1,810 calories
N/A g fat (89 g saturated)
652 mg sodium

It’s no surprise that America’s worst restaurant for adult food also offers the Worst Kids’ Meal in America. Heck, nine of its children’s meals contain more than 800 calories. The Factory’s blatant disregard for restraint is evidenced by the fact that this dish contains nearly a full day’s calories for a grown adult—and that’s not this meal’s worst crime. The saturated fat content can only be fully understood by making grotesque comparisons: Taking in the 89 grams of saturated fat clinging to these noodles would require your child to consume 54 Jimmy Dean sausage links.

Eat This Instead!
Kids Pasta with Marinara Sauce
510 calories
N/A g fat (2 g saturated)
651 mg sodium

FIX IT WITH FOOD! Check out our list of the 40 Foods with Superpowers—foods that, even in moderation, can strengthen your heart, fortify your bones, and boost your metabolism so you can lose weight more quickly.


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