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17 Kids' Meals Worse Than An Ice Cream Cone

Many parents consider ice cream to be an occasional "treat"—something they allow their kids when they ace a math test or go above and beyond cleaning their room. But few think twice about the kiddie entrées at restaurants that are far worse than the average cone. These are some of the most sugary, salty, and fat-filled offenders.

Let's face it: a kid's palate isn't what you'd call sophisticated. Most little ones have two major food groups: stuff that's beige (fries, chicken fingers, crackers) and stuff that's yellow (mac and cheese and if you're lucky, bananas). Simply put, children don't make mealtimes easy for their parents—and neither do the majority of chain restaurants. Most offer kids' menus that almost always include the same five choices—pasta, grilled cheese, burgers, and mac and cheese. Sounds a lot like what many of us ate as kids, so how bad could such fare be?

The answer: really, really bad. And that's because today's food is just plain different than the stuff we ate growing up. Over the years, chain restaurants have allowed their portion sizes and calorie counts to balloon faster than the size of Kylie Jenner's lips. Consider the average fast food dinner of burger, fries, and a soda. Since the 1970s, that simple meal has morphed into something grotesque: The typical serving size for soft drinks has increased by 49 calories; for French fries by 68 calories; and for burgers by 97 calories. If you fed your child this standard restaurant meal once a week, he or she would be taking in 11,128 more calories a year (which yields 3 pounds of extra body weight) than if you had consumed the same dish 30 years ago. And it's not just the calorie counts that are getting out of hand—it's the sugar content, too. According to the latest National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, American children aged 2 to 19 are consuming an average of 80 grams of sugar per day, which is what you'd find in 13 Chips Ahoy chewy cookies. The amount of added sugars health experts recommend for optimal children's health? Twenty-five grams or less.

For some perspective, the average small vanilla cone has 26 grams of the sweet stuff, along with 230 calories, 7 grams of fat and 5 grams of saturated fat. Yes, that's right, just one tiny cone exceeds the daily recommended intake of sugar. So, you're right to tell junior it's only a "sometimes" treat. But consider this: Uno's Pizzeria & Grill Kid's Chicken Pops (a meal comprised of chicken tenders on sticks, fries, and various dipping sauces) packs a staggering 55 grams of sugar, which is more than twice the recommended intake and about twice what you'd find in an ice cream cone.

Do we have your attention now? We thought we might. Before you take your family out for dinner, we suggest you continue reading. Below, we've identified 17 of the very worst kids' meals, all of which are far worse than the average ice cream cone. If you want to do right by your mini me, skip these villainous dishes—and keep yourself healthy, too, by avoiding these #1 Worst Menu Option at 40 Popular Restaurants.

Friendly's Kid's Cheese Quesadilla

856 calories, 48 fat, 30 saturated fat, 2,961 mg sodium, 69 g carbs, 9 g fiber, 15 g sugar, 40 g protein

With nine grams of the stuff, this dish has a super impressive fiber content, but at what cost?! It packs more sodium than a full grown adult is advised to eat in an entire day! Not to mention, it also exceeds the recommended daily fat intake for 4- to 8-year-olds—a negative attribute the average cone just doesn't carry.

Eat This Instead!
If you don't want to bloat your mini-me up like a balloon—or set him or her up for high blood pressure later in life—consider ordering the chicken fingers and french fries, which somehow only packs 104 calories and 230 milligrams of sodium. Another smart option: the grilled chicken and broccoli, which clocks in at 238 calories with a far more reasonable 679 milligrams of sodium. Looking for more healthy eats for your mini me? Check out these 34 Healthiest Foods for Kids.

Applebee's Kid's Grilled Cheese Sandwich

640 calories, 35 g fat, 14 g saturated fat, 1 g trans fat,1,340 mg sodium, 60 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 8 g sugar, 21 g protein

The American Heart Association recommends all people—both big and small—limit their intake of dangerous trans fat to no more than 1 percent of total calories. For an adult, that's about 2 grams a day. However, for small children who average between 1,000 and 1,400 calories a day, that's about 1 to 1.5 grams. This innocent-looking sandwich packs an entire day's worth of the heart-damaging ingredient and more than half a day's worth of calories.

Eat This Instead!
If junior wants a grilled cheese, make one for him at home using nutrient-rich Ezekiel bread and grass-fed butter. (Check out these 30 Grilled Cheese Ideas and Tips for more ideas!) And next time you bring him to the 'Bees, order the chicken grillers and pair it with steamed broccoli and milk for a far lighter dish.

IHop Create-A-Face Pancake

450 calories, 11 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 1,180 mg sodium, 76 g carbs, 3 g fiber, 28 g sugar, 13 g protein

Don't let that smiling face fool you, the nutritional profile of this whipped cream-topped flapjack is rather suspect. If your mini-me cleared his or her entire plate, they would have been better off eating ice cream for breakfast. Yes, that's right, this dish carries more calories, fat, saturated fat and sugar than the average cone.

Eat This Instead!
Your best bet at iHop is to order multiple side dishes. Snag a side of fruit for 60 calories and a couple grams of fiber and pair it with a single buttermilk pancake (120 calories, 4 g sugar) or a scrambled egg (110 calories). Big kids—and really hungry little guys—may have room for all three.

Chili's Kid's Pepperoni Pizza

700 calories, 34 g fat, 14 g saturated fat, 0.5 g trans fat, 1,250 mg sodium, 72 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 8 g sugar, 26 g protein

Each Chili's Pepper Pal meal comes with an entrée, a side item, and a drink. But the stats you see above are just for the 6-inch pie. Pair it with a chocolate milk and some fries and you're looking at a total of 1,180 calories, which is more than the average 4 or 5-year-old is meant to consume in an entire day.

Eat This Instead!
Order the grilled chicken platter (160 calories, 4 g fat, 690 mg sodium) and pair it with either the steamed broccoli (40 calories, 0 g fat, 45 mg sodium) or the fresh pineapple side (60 calories, 0 g fat, 0 mg sodium). As for the beverage, stick with water, or unflavored milk.

Denny's Jr. Cinnamon Pancake Breakfast

780 calories, 36 g fat, 13 g saturated fat, 1,700 mg sodium, 94 g carbs, 3 g fiber, 46 g sugar, 18 g protein

This platter may be better than the adult-sized version (which packs well over 1,000 calories), but we wouldn't even suggest this kiddie meal for mom or dad. It carries nearly a day's worth of fat and twice the recommended sugar intake. But c'mon, are you really that surprised? We're talking about a platter filled with icing-drizzled pancakes, bacon, sausage, and eggs, after all.

Eat This Instead!
We can't in good conscience recommend any of the pre-developed platters for kids at Denny's. So our suggestion here is similar to what we recommended you do at iHop. Tell your waiter you want to order the Jr. Grand Slam with bacon strips and eggs, but instead of choosing any of the listed items as your third choice, ask for a cup of seasonal fruit. You might have to pay an extra dollar or two for the upgrade, but it's well worth it. The resulting platter is one that will save your little one 515 calories, 20 grams of fat, over 1,000 milligrams of salt and 46 grams of added sugar, which is the kind the government and health experts are urging moms, dads, and their children, to stay away from!

Eat This, Not That!: Foods with Added Sugar

California Pizza Kitchen Kid's Curly Mac 'N' Cheese

770 calories, 46 g fat, 28 g saturated fat, 1.5 trans fat, 780 mg sodium, 69 g carbs, 5 g fiber, 4 g sugar, 21 g protein

Whereas most kid favorites—chicken fingers, cheeseburgers, even hot dogs—offer some redeeming nutritional value, macaroni and cheese bring nothing but cheese, cream, and refined carbohydrates to the table. And CPK's spin the classic is no exception. It has over a half day's worth of calories and more than an entire day's worth of fat and trans fat.

Eat This Instead!
The kid's fusilli with tomato sauce has the carby goodness kids can't get enough of but comes in right at the 400 calorie mark—a far more reasonable amount of substance to give to a child in one sitting. This simple swap also keeps 38 grams of fat and 27 grams of saturated fat off your kid's plate. If he or she is begging for cheese, ask your waiter to sprinkle some atop the noodles—it will only add a negligible amount of calories and fat. And speaking of healthier pasta options, if you're looking for ways to carb up and lean down, don't miss these 25 Best Carbs for Weight Loss!

Denny's Jr. Cheeseburger

460 calories, 25 g fat, 12 g saturated fat, 1 g trans fat, 950 mg sodium, 29 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 4 g sugar, 28 g protein

Even before you tack on any of the free-with-order side dish options, this burger will give your child more than twice the calories than you'd find in an average ice cream cone—and four times the fat! Once that side of Goldfish crackers is accounted for, you're looking at a platter of nutrient-void simple carbs that clocks in at the 720 calorie mark, which is almost a day's worth of calories for smaller kids.

Eat This Instead!
The spaghetti is a safe choice—and actually, one that offers some solid nutrition if you pair it with the side of steamed broccoli, banana or apple slices.

Perkins Kid's City Slicker

894 calories, 34 g fat, 8 g saturated fat, 2,551 mg sodium, 122 g carbs 8 g fiber, 7 g sugar, 25 g protein

Thanks to the heaps of hydrogenated (which is manufacturer speak for trans fat-filled) soybean oil and salt used to cook and season the eggs, meat and hash browns, this breakfast platter provides enough calories for three kids to share in a single meal. If somehow your child managed to polish this off on his or her own, it would be the calorie equivalent to nearly four vanilla ice cream cones! If that wasn't bad enough, the City Slicker is laced with dimethylpolysiloxane, an antifoaming agent that's a suspected carcinogen. Doesn't sound like something you want to be feeding your kids, does it?

Eat This Instead!
Next time you're grabbing brunch with the fam at Perkin's order the Deliciously Fit Rainbow Pancake Breakfast for the kids. We give you our blessing to serve it to junior with the whipped cream and the powdered sugar—but only' if that means you'll ditch the syrup, which adds an extra 15 grams of sugar and 70 calories. Stick with our modified order, which includes, bacon and sprinkle-clad buttermilk pancakes, to save 538 calories, 15 grams of fat, and 7.5 salt packets worth of sodium. Looking for even more tips for eating healthy on the run? Check out these 35 Tips to Eat Healthy at Restaurants.

Ruby Tuesday's Kid's Mini Burgers with Cheese

749, 43 g fat, 12 g saturated fat , 2,042mg, 59 g carbs, 5 g fiber, 4 g sugar, 33 g protein

In the paradox that is the restaurant world, it seems that the more diminutive the burger, the greater potential it possesses for nutritional mayhem. If restaurants stopped with one mini and held the fries, your kid would be fine, but these baby burgers normally come in groups of two or more—so you end up with two buns, two slices of cheese, two sets of condiments. The end result is a plate with more calories, fat, and sodium than you'd find in a single normal-sized burger.

Eat This Instead!
Order the grilled chicken kid's entree, which has a far more reasonable profile: 431 calories, 16 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 1,727 mg sodium, 29 g carbs, 3 g fiber, 2 g sugar.

And while you're at it, be sure to read up on these 11 Ways to Help Your Family Eat Healthier!

T.G.I. Friday's Kid's Chicken Fingers

*500 calories, 33 g fat, 10 g saturated fat, 1,160 mg sodium, 31 g carbs, 1 g fiber, n/a g sugar 20 g protein

With two ice cream cones worth of calories and an undisclosed amount of sugar, this shady poultry dish is better left unordered. Once you start adding on the sides and dipping sauces things are guaranteed to get far bleaker for your little one's health.

Eat This Instead!
Get the chicken sandwich or the pasta and marinara, which are both lower in calories and sodium, but still provide a fair share of protein. Even the pasta dish provides an impressive 9 grams! Choose the mandarin oranges or the fruit cup as a side, to add even more must-have nutrients for growing bodies. For more healthy meal ideas for your tiny tot, peruse our report 11 School Lunches Nutritionists Give Their Kids.

Uno's Pizzeria & Grill Kid's Chicken Pops

970 calories, 42 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 2,130 mg sodium, 117 g carbs, 5 g fiber, 55 g sugar, 31 g protein

If you were only concerned with sugar content, you'd be better off giving your kid 84—yes, as in, eight, four!—M&M candies, then you would be giving them this dinner. Just one brief look at the calorie, fat, and salt stats and it's clear that this is yet another dish that reinforces the stereotype that anything and everything that's served on a stick is a dietary demon.

Eat This Instead!
For a similar crispy, beige dinner—that won't overload your kid with nutrients he doesn't need—order the Safari nuggets instead. They're baked not fried and served with choice of side dish. Aside from Uno's fries, all of their sides are stellar selections, filled with vitamins that will do right by your child.

RELATED: The 34 Healthiest Foods for Kids

Longhorn Steakhouse Kid's Cheeseburger

680 calories, 37 g fat, 17 g saturated fat, 2 g trans fat, 570 mg sodium, 44 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 7 g sugar, 42 g protein

Generally speaking, Longhorn's isn't a bad place to give your kid a meal. Aside from the cheeseburger (which carries two day's worth of dangerous trans fat), the third-rack Baby Back Ribs, and the smoothies, everything else on the kids' menu is a safe bet.

Eat This Instead!
Skip the soda and fries, and instead, pair the children's grilled chicken salad, grilled chicken tenders, or sirloin with an orange or steamed broccoli side.

Applebee's Kid's Cheesy Bread Pizza

610 calories, 31 g fat, 17 g saturated fat, 1 g trans fat, 1,610 mg sodium, 61 g carbs, 4 g fiber, 9 g sugar, 24 g protein (from the Really Really Hungry Kids menu)

The fat content of this kids' dish is downright staggering. Not only does this cheesy bread dinner contain more fat and saturated fat than a Big Mac, it contains more calories, too. Though a growing child needs fat in their diet to absorb certain nutrients and help sustain their hormones, a kid that's 2 to 3 years old should only be consuming 350 calories from fat a day. That brakes down to about 39 grams of fat—or just 8 grams short of what's in this meal. Shame on you, Applebee's.

Eat This Instead!
Sure, these stats make our blood boil, but we can't ignore that there are a number of fairly wholesome offerings for tiny humans on the menu, too. The 4 oz. sirloin (off the Really Really Hungry Kids menu) paired with the apple dippers with yogurt comes in at 230 calories, which is a far more reasonable amount for a young child to sit down to.

15 Things to Know About Applebees Nutrition

Ruby Tuesday's Kid's Corn Dog

621 calories, 36 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 1,756 mg sodium, 57 g carbs, 5 g fiber, 8 g sugar, 13 g protein
Comes with fries

Once only reserved for baseball stadiums and carnivals, corn dogs have slowly but surely crept their way onto children's' menus across the nation—and we're not exactly okay with that. After a leisurely dip in cornmeal batter, followed by a bath in a pool of fat, those poor hot dogs didn't even stand a chance. Believe it or not, these bad dogs contains as much fat as five ice cream cones. If you wouldn't let your child down that many at once, you best be planning on keeping them away from this not-so-wholesome dish.

Eat This Instead!
With 427 calories, 6 grams of fat and 5 grams of sugar, Ruby's tomato basil pasta is a kid-friendly dish that's also Eat This! Approved. For even more smart meal ideas for children, check out these 8 Lunchbox Foods That Keep Kids Focused.

Uno's Pizzeria & Grill Kid's Cheese Bread

890 calories, 36 g fat, 10 g saturated fat, 1,740 mg sodium, 111 g carbs, 4 g fiber, 6 g sugar, 29 g protein

Considering an individual sized Chicago classic deep dish pizza from Uno's contains a staggering 2,300 calories and 164 grams of fat, we can't say we were too shocked to discover that their kid's pizzas and flatbread are just as gluttonous. But this particular dish is bad; really, bad. Not only does the cheese topped bread contain nearly an entire day's worth of fat, it barely provides any noteworthy nutrients. For a dish that has 111 grams of carbs, a measly 4 grams of fiber is hardly enough. We can only assume they're using refined flour to make their crust, which is an energy spike—and hard crash—waiting to happen.

Eat This Instead!
If Italian-inspired fare is what your child craves, get him or her an order of the kid's pasta instead. It contains 25 percent of the day's vitamin A and 20 percent of the day's vitamin C and iron, a nutrient that helps the body create red blood cells. Not only will making this simple swap, load your little one up with vital nutrients, it will save him calories, too—590 (which is half a day's worth) to be exact.

P.F. Chang's Kid's Gluten Free Chicken Fried Rice

510 calories, 9 g fat, 2.5 g saturated fat, 1,720 mg sodium, 78 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 10 g sugar, 26 g protein

Chang's at it again, assaulting its menu items with globs of sodium. Though we didn't see the chef prepare it, we're fairly certain that the chicken and grains are far outweighed by the surplus of salt saturating every last greasy grain of rice.

Eat This Instead!
We like The Baby Buddha's Feast (180 calories, 8 g fat, 6 g protein), which contains stir-fried snap peas, carrots, and broccoli. Skip the rice and pair it with a carb that has less of a chance of being drenched in salt and oil, like the fresh fruit. It can be yours for an additional 50 cents!

On the Border Kid's Cheese Quesadilla

890 calories, 69 g fat, 30 g saturated fat, 1,170 mg sodium, 36 g carbs, 1 g fiber, N/A g sugar, 33 g protein

On the Border's kids' menu mostly offers reasonable Mexican fare, but this cheese quesadilla stands out as a disturbing outlier. How the chain veers so far off course with this item, we really can't say. 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!
Every kid loves tacos, which is great news because On the Border's aren't half bad. For 350 calories, 15 grams of fat, and 565 milligrams of sodium you can buy your lovable tiny human a platter of mini crispy chicken tacos, complete with a side of grilled vegetables. For even more info on eating healthy at your favorite Tex-Mex joint, check out our exclusive report, Eat This, Not That! for Mexican Lovers.


Dana Leigh Smith
Dana has written for Women's Health, Prevention, Reader's Digest, and countless other publications. Read more about Dana Leigh
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