Fast Food Kids Meals Ranked From Worst To Best

Fast food can truly be a saving grace for a busy parent; time, convenience, or whimsy can all inspire a trip to the drive-thru. And due to the pandemic, more and more people are turning to fast food, with 20% of families surveyed in a 2021 Mott Poll report saying they've eaten more of it since March 2020. 

Kids' meals from fast food restaurants have been helping keep families full for decades. The first fast food kids' meal came from the now-defunct Burger Chef. According to Reader's Digest, they debuted the Fun Meal in 1973, a combo that included a small burger, fries, a treat, a drink, and a toy. The Fun Meal, of course, came wrapped in a box decked out with illustrations of mascots. A few years later, the McDonald's Happy Meal would arrive on the scene. The rest, as they say, is McHistory. 

Nowadays, there are more options than ever for parents to choose from when it comes to grabbing fast food for their little ones. These fast food kids' meals, ranked worst to best, are some of the most commonly ordered by families around the country.

22. Carl's Jr./Hardee's StarPals Chicken Stars

Carl's Jr. and Hardee's offer four selections when it comes to kids' meals. For many little ones, nuggets are a tried and true bet. At 180 calories, they're also tied with the two-piece chicken tender meal as the lowest-calorie options, at 180 calories for each meal. The meal comes with a side of kids' fries and a bottle of 1% milk. It does the trick, but it's not necessarily the most exciting kids' menu choice out there.

If you don't know much about Carl's Jr. or Hardee's StarPals Kids Meals, there could be a good reason. For one, the restaurants are located in just 44 of the 50 states, so you may be in an area they don't serve. It may also be because the StarPals combos returned only somewhat recently. After going nearly a decade without a dedicated kids' menu, the StarPals Kids Meals came back in June 2019 — and with a very trendy toy partnership with YouTube channel Ryan's World to boot.

As the brand continues to tweak the StarPals Kids Meals, they're also working on providing toys with meals. At this time, they're available at participating Carl's Jr. and Hardee's locations.

21. Jack In The Box's miniature pancakes

Jack in the Box lost a lot of popularity points with younger diners back in 2011, when, as NPR reported, they announced that they would no longer include toys in kids' meals. The decision came at the same time that the chain started offering healthier options, including applesauce or apple slices instead of fries with kids' meals. At the time, the company also admitted to not selling a great deal of kids' meals, suggesting they were never winning the popularity contest to begin with.

The San Diego-based chain has locations in 21 states. Though they don't seem to push kids' menus much these days, their nutrition breakdown indicates items for kids are still available. Nutrition facts-wise, the eight-piece mini pancakes is one of their most attractive offerings. What's more, VeryWell Fit pointed out that they are also the healthiest of the breakfast items, which is great for kiddos who want to eat the most important meal of the day for every meal of the day.

20. Jersey Mike's ham sub combo

According to Franchise Times, sandwich chain Jersey Mike's Subs experienced a nearly 40% growth in system-wide sales from 2018 to 2020, and we have to think the kids' menu played a part in the company's success. The kid menu? Why, it offers three different subs, with the portions just right for younger eaters. It's a clutch selection for parents who are over fast food chicken and burgers, but still need the convenience of something quick.

One of the greatest things about Jersey Mike's answer to a kids' menu is that it's highly customizable. You can choose ham and cheese, turkey and cheese, or salami and cheese. A cookie and a drink round the meal out. It's a simple, albeit classic sandwich shop combination. We wouldn't hate a bag of carrot sticks or perhaps an apple as a side option, but hey, it is a perfectly fine meal.

19. Sonic's Wacky Pack with grilled cheese

Located in 46 states as of 2022, Sonic is a fast-food favorite with a long history. The fast food chain has a few unique options when it comes to their kids' meals, known as Wacky Packs.

Sonic has the usual kids' menu offerings of chicken tenders and hamburgers, but they also offer hot dogs, corn dogs, and a grilled cheese. The grilled cheese isn't any old puny grilled cheese. As Brand Eating noted in their review,  slices of cheese are melted between thick slices of Texas toast. For sides, kids can choose from applesauce, tater tots, or french fries, with apple juice or 1% milk. Each Sonic kids' meal comes with a toy, with special options for kids under three.

Sonic also has a reputation of giving back to the communities they are located in. In 2020, they announced that they were offering discounted kids' meals to $1.99 to help families struggling during the early days of the pandemic. They also have the Sonic Foundation, their philanthropic arm that helps provide "brighter futures for America's youth through support of three key pillars, including hunger, education and community," according to Inspire Brand Stories. Their dedication to kids and their out-of-the ordinary menu offerings make them a worthy contender among kids' fast food options.

18. Panera Bread's chicken noodle soup combo

Panera may not be the first place you think of when you're trying to find a quick and easy spot to eat at with your brood, but the chain has a bunch of picks that are sure to be crowd pleasers. According to FoodNavigator-USA, they have led the charge in re-envisioning kids' meals for years. In 2016, they introduced the "Kids Meal Promise," cutting sugary drinks and steering clear of artificial additives. What's more, they pivoted away from "marketing gimmicks" like toy giveaways.

Panera's menu offers six soup options, seven salad options, and seven sandwiches for kids. They're also welcome to a variety of sides from yogurt to fruit to chips. Kids are also able to order anything off the rest of the menu in a half-size, the company announced in a 2017 social media post

Chicken noodle soup is a great pick for warming up on a cold day or fighting off the sniffles. It's a great option that parents and kids can feel good about.

17. Boston Market's meatloaf combo for kids

Boston Market offers a lot of kid-sized portions of some of customers' favorite menu offerings, such as chicken, turkey, meatloaf, and mac and cheese. Of those options, meatloaf is definitely the way to go, because it's not everyday you see it on a kids' menu. It's slathered in zesty ketchup, which is what a majority of kids' meals devolve into anyway, earning it extra points.

Per Fast Food Nutrition, the kids' meals are served with sides that are kid-sized portions of the adult sides, such as premium dishes like creamed spinach and sweet potato casserole. The combos also happen to come with a piece of cornbread and a drink.

Boston Market is also one of the restaurants that has looked to help their customers during the pandemic. As Thrillist reported in 2021, kids under 12 were offered free meals for dine-in or pickup during.

16. Dairy Queen's chicken strip meal

Dairy Queen may be known for sweet treats, but their kids' meals are not as sweet as they used to be. As BuzzFeed News reported at the time, when many restaurant chains were making an effort to deliver healthier choices, the chain made the decision to remove sodas and other sugary drinks from kids' meals in 2015. They did not, however, remove their signature ice cream option, which earned them some criticism. According to their site, DQ no longer offers toys with their kids' meals, but feel the cone is an equally special treat.

Today, kids can choose between two-piece chicken strips, a hamburger, or a hot dog. For sides, they can choose a banana, applesauces, or kids' fries. The banana, in particular, is interesting considering there aren't many fast food restaurants who offer kids' fruits outside of apple slices. Also, though there were once a number of ice cream options, it seems meals now come with a simple vanilla cone. No matter the flavor, ice cream is ice cream. 

15. Wendy's cheeseburger kids' meal

At its heart, Wendy's is, as Square Deal Blog notes, all about the "fresh, never frozen beef." Wendy's offers both hamburger and cheeseburger kids' meals, in addition to their chicken nugget option.

Outside of serving burgers that've never seen the inside of an icebox to kids, the Wendy's brand is also committed to helping kids. In 2004, the Wendy's Wonderful Kids initiative was launched through the Dave Thomas Foundation For Adoption, which aims to assist children in foster care find adoptive families. The ongoing initiative looks to continue making it easier for children over the age of eight or children with special needs to find fulfilling homes.

It's hard to resist the kids' cheeseburger meal, which offers the perfect, filling portion for tiny tummies (or even adults looking for a snack). Kids can choose from apple slices or fries as a side, and apple juice or milk as a drink.

14. Culver's corn dog combo

Culver's does a lot to set their kids' meal experiences apart from the rest. Though they only have locations in 25 states, there are a few reasons you might want to plan a road-trip stop there with the kids. They can choose from an original ButterBurger, a ButterBurger with cheese, chicken tenders, grilled cheese, or a corn dog. As far as sides go, the options are small crinkle-cut fries or applesauce, and the meal also comes with a drink. Plus, Culver's offers a free scoop of frozen custard, along with a free Scoopie Token! Saving ten tokens will score your child a prize of their choice at their next visit, which is awesome for families who live near a Culver's.

If you're on a road-trip with little ones and happen to drive by a Culver's, the kids' corn dog is a good buy; it's an easy, mess-free meal. 

13. Panda Express' Cub Meal with broccoli beef

Panda Express may be a newcomer to kids-friendly fare, but they easily have some of the most robust options when it comes to a kids' menu. The chain launched their Panda Cub Meals in November 2021. These combos were formulated based on USDA dietary recommendations for children, according to QSR Magazine.

One of the things that makes Panda Cub Meals unique is that they offer half sides, which allow you to combine white rice or fried rice with greens. A full side of any of those options is also available if your child has a favorite. They also offer a whopping 13 different options for junior entrees. The Cub Meal featuring broccoli beef is one of three recommended for young customers. It comes with beef and broccoli in a ginger soy sauce that agrees with even the pickiest eaters. The meal also includes a drink.

12. Arby's chicken nuggets meal

Arby's introduced their premium six-piece chicken nugget kids' meal in June 2021, according to QSR Magazine. The nuggets, which come with barbecue sauce by default, also come with crinkle-cut fries and a 1% low-fat milk. Honest apple juice boxes are also available in all states but California and Hawaii.

It may be Arby's first foray into nuggets, but they're already getting some rave reviews. A blind taste-tester on Reddit remarked, "I just assumed they were some kind of popcorn chicken so had low expectations, but I was pleasantly surprised. They are really pretty good." Inspire Brands Stories noted that the crinkle fries, an item added to the menu in April 2021, are also a hit for their crispy texture. The combination of the two crispy items results in a delicious option for filling kids' bellies. 

11. Wendy's chicken nuggets kids' meal

Wendy's delighted fans with the news that they were bringing back their spicy nuggets in 2019 after a tweet from Chance the Rapper set things in motion. As Eater recounted, the fan-favorite was initially pulled from the menu in March 2017.

What few people know is that you can get spicy nuggets with a kids' meal at select locations. That's great news for families who have kids with adventurous taste buds. According to CNN, the four-piece all white meat nuggets are also among the healthier options on the kids' menu. Of course, there's also their standard nuggets if you're looking to play it safe. 

The nuggets can be paired with six different dipping sauces: buttermilk ranch, BBQ, creamy sriracha, sweet & sour, honey mustard, or ghost pepper ranch — though that last one is probably a bit much for most kids. The meal is completed with apple slices or fries and apple juice or milk. Wendy's also offers a toy with each of their kids' meals.

10. Bojangles' chicken leg combo

Bojangles has locations in just 14 states, but it has some pretty tasty food for those who are lucky enough to frequent their restaurants. The chicken and biscuit chain offers three different choices when it comes to kids' meals. The options are the two-piece homestyle tenders meal, the chicken leg kids' meal, and a vegetarian-friendly mac and cheese meal. Each combo comes with a homemade buttermilk biscuit, and a child-sized portion of any of the restaurant's eight fixins: seasoned fries, Bo-tato Rounds, Dirty Rice, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, Cajun Pintos, green beans, or coleslaw. The meal is completed with a jug of low fat milk.

The chicken leg is perfect for big appetites and older kids. Green beans may be a harder sell, but you can't pass up an opportunity to add roughage to meals where you can. 

9. Burger King's Cheeseburger King Jr. combo

Burger King's kids' menu has changed over the years. As The New York Times wrote back in 1990, after the company unveiled the Kids Club characters, the McDonald's Happy Meal was given a run for its money. Alas, the Kids Club didn't stick around forever, and now the burger chain sells King Jr. meals, which combine some of your BK favorites with healthy options that make everyone happy. Burger King has four different options for entrees in their King Jr. Meals. Guests can choose from a hamburger, cheeseburger, four-piece nugget, or six-piece nugget meal. For sides, there are kids' fries, kids' onion rings, or a Mott's applesauce cup. Finish the meal off with your choice of apple juice, fat-free milk, or kids' soft drink. Oh, and a toy also happens to come with this meal.

As Thrillist reported in August 2020, Burger King offered help to customers struggling during the pandemic by offering free kids' meals with any purchase. These acts of community endear customers, and especially parents, when choosing where to spend their precious dollars.

8. Panda Express' chicken teriyaki kids' meal

The chicken teriyaki Cub Meal is another one of the awesome kids' combos you can find at Panda Express. An order includes hand-sliced chicken thighs that are coated in teriyaki sauce, plus chow mein and super greens as half-sides. The whole thing is rounded out with a bag of dried apple slices and a bottle of water. 

Panda Express scores major points with parents for offering up a variety of healthy, kid-friendly options. "Our new Panda Cub Meals are thoughtfully assembled with a nutrition-first mindset, using our most popular dishes and introducing a new healthy fruit snack," Chief Brand Officer Andrea Cherng told QSR Magazine in November 2021. "We want to make it easier for families to enjoy their favorite American Chinese meals while ensuring kids are getting the nutrients they need." A delicious meal that doesn't totally throw nutritional value out the window? Not a bad deal. 

7. Arby's turkey slider meal for kids

Arby's sliders are one of their most popular menu items. As Chewboom reported at the time, the the chain added a slider made with turkey and cheese to the roster in 2016. Though this slider was initially suspected to be a limited-time item, it eventually found a home on the Arby's kids' menu. It is now one of five available sliders for little ones to choose from.

The turkey slider kids' meal at Arby's features thin-sliced turkey and melted cheese on a bun that's just the right size for a little one. The slider, which clocks in at 180 calories, can be paired with an order of curly fries or applesauce. As far as kid-friendly drinks go, the chain offers 1% white or chocolate milk, or Honest apple juice in states other than California and Hawaii.

6. Popeyes' four-piece chicken nugget meal

Popeyes has undergone a lot of changes in recent years, and many of them have proven popular with their customers. In July 2021, Popeyes answered a call they'd been getting from fans for a while by introducing a nugget version of their outstanding tenders. As Delish reported at the time, the nuggets are made of seasoned white meat chicken breast that's breaded with buttermilk, then fried.

Customers love that the nuggets taste just as great as the chicken sandwiches do. "Unlike all the other chicken and tenders, the nuggets uses the same breading and batter as the sandwiches," one Redditor pointed out. "So they may have a similar taste to the sandwiches."

When they made their debut, nuggets were made available on both the regular menu and the kids' menu. Popeyes customers can get a four or six-piece kids' meal with a side applesauce pouch and apple juice. For sauces, you can choose from Bayou Buffalo, BoldBQ, Blackened Ranch, Buttermilk Ranch, Wild Honey Mustard, and Sweet Heat.

5. McDonald's hamburger Happy Meal

There's something about a McDonald's burger that sets it apart from the rest. It also happens to be one of the lowest-calorie menu items at 250 calories. Add sides of kid's fries and apple slices, as well as 1% milk, and the entire meal comes in at 475 calories. Plus, kiddos get a toy with every Happy Meal.

The hamburger currently the only burger on the Happy Meal roster. In 2018, McDonald's announced that the cheeseburger Happy Meal would not appear on the menu but could still be requested. Same goes for chocolate milk.

Happy Meals are one of the most recognizable names in kids' meals, so the changes they make tend to indicate shifts in the industry. According to Foodnavigator-USA, ever since McDonald's began their efforts to make Happy Meals healthier, "more than 2.5 billion Happy Meals sold in 2018 and 2019 contained a fruit, vegetable, low-fat dairy, water, lean protein, or whole grain."

4. Subway's mini veggie sub kids' combo

Fast food sandwich giant Subway has three different choices for their youngest customers in their Fresh Fit Meals for Kids. The slightly smaller subs are available with ham, turkey, or veggie. Hey, you really can't go wrong with these three classic sandwich options. 

Subway's Veggie Delite is, as you might've guessed, happens to be the chain's meatless sandwich, which is great news for vegetarian kids or parents looking for creative ways to get those greens. The multigrain bread sandwich includes lettuce, baby spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, and red onions. The meal is completed by an applesauce pouch and organic apple juice or 1% low-fat milk. 

Interestingly, Fresh Fit Meals for Kids are supposed to come with toys. At some locations, however, customers have reported not getting them. Employees have explained on Reddit that at some locations they aren't offered because of low-demand.

3. Panera Bread's macaroni and cheese kids' meal

There's nothing quite like some really delicious, hearty mac and cheese. Panera Bread delivers with two different mac and cheese entrees on their kids' menu:  their "signature" version and another with broccoli and cheddar cheese.

Panera's philosophy is to place staples like their mac and cheese offerings on the menu alongside other menu items that may not be as familiar. "Kids are becoming more exploratory, where they might try a salad one time and something else another time," Panera Bread wellness & food policy official Sara Burnett said at the Partnership for a Healthier America Summit in 2019 (per Foodnavigator-USA). "If you were to ask me what the best sellers are, it's still mac and cheese and grilled cheese, but we are seeing a shift."

Mac and cheese isn't all that the meal comes with. There are also side options, from bread to a salad to yogurt, as well as a drink. And if all of that isn't convincing enough, Panera also lets kids eat free with an adult dinner purchase.

2. McDonald's McNuggets Happy Meal

In 2003, the McDonald's Chicken McNugget, a classic piece of the fast food giant's menu, underwent a McModification. As the Chicago Tribune reported at the time, McNuggets became smaller and McDonald's began using only white meat in their production, part of an industry-wide shift toward healthier options for children. And yes, they still taste good.

Just as popular in its own right is the Happy Meal, which is one of the most recognizable names in kids' meals in the decades since its debut. And what do you know, there are not one but two Chicken McNuggets Happy Meals to choose from. Depending on how hungry your little one may be, you can pick up either a four or six-piece McNuggets combo. In addition to the beloved chicken nuggets, the meal comes with kids' fries, apple sauce, a choice of 1% low-fat milk or apple juice, and of course, a toy.

1. Chick-fil-A's grilled nuggets combo

Chick-fil-A has a massive fan following and their kids' meal may be part of the reason why. The chicken restaurant has three different kids' meals on their menu, all featuring their highly-acclaimed chicken. Little ones can choose from Chick-fil-A nuggets, Chick-n strips, and grilled chicken nuggets. Kids' meals at Chick-fil-A also come with a toy, with board books available for patrons under the age of three.

As dietitian Lauren Harris-Pincus told Eat This, Not That, the original chicken nuggets are excellent, but the grilled nuggets offer you one of the healthiest options available for kids in fast food. "This is pretty close to the USDA's nutrition guidelines for kids, and is not a bad choice for a fast-food meal," she shared.

To compare, a five-piece order of the grilled chicken nuggets are 80 calories, half of the 160 calories of the original chicken nuggets. Per The Chicken Wire, the grilled nuggets got their start as a kids' item, but ended up being so popular that they were brought to the main menu.