Healthy fast food dinners for the family

Between basketball practice and the school band concert, there’s barely enough time to squeeze in dinner. You can’t bear the thought of another burger and fries, but what are you to do when there’s limited time? Try some of the options that strike the balance between sit-down restaurants and fast food.

Noodles& Co.

A long-time favorite of my pasta-loving sons, Noodles& Co. offers noodle dishes inspired by Mediterranean, Asian and American cuisine. From Pad Thai to mac ‘n’ cheese, even a family of fussy eaters can find something to please their palettes. Carb-conscious eaters can find a few noodle-less options, including salads.

Kid-friendly: Two portion sizes for all their dishes make ordering for different ages easy. Mac ‘n cheese, buttered noodles and spaghetti and meatballs are especially popular.

Visit for nutrition information and local locations.

Baja Fresh

Baja Fresh is a great spot for California-style Mexican food. Fresh ingredients and made-to-order meals ensure that every dish tastes homemade. Their pork carnitas tacos are especially moist. Choose from hot or mild salsa and pick black or pinto beans, along with traditional Spanish rice. Freshly fried tortilla chips and the salsa bar have something to offer to every spice level. (Try the mango salsa for something sweet and spicy.)

Kid-friendly: Quesadillas are a real child-pleaser. Served with rice and applesauce on the side, you can add chicken for added protein.

Visit for nutrition information and one of six suburban locations.


Cosi uses an open-flame hearth oven to create their popular pizzas and sandwich melts. Couches and overstuffed chairs make for a very comfortable environment in which to enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner. From the healthy Signature Salad to the decadent Double Trouble Brownie Sundae, it’s easy to fill up on Cosi options.

Kid-friendly: The $4.99 Kids Menu offers meals from PB&J to pizzas. Add the yummy desserts and you have a great, affordable kids’ dinner.

Visit for nutrition information and local locations.

Panera Bread

Although a wildly popular lunch spot, families forget that Panera’s soups, sandwiches and salads make a healthy, tasty dinner. With at least five daily soup options, kids and adults can find something to warm their stomachs. Add one of their BBQ Chopped Chicken salads for a complete meal. Best of all, after everyone has eaten their wholesome dinners, you can visit the bakery for freshly baked desserts.

Kid-friendly: Besides the soups, PB&J and grilled cheese sandwiches keep kids happy. Kids’ sandwiches are served on white whole grain bread and come with a squeezable yogurt pouch.

Visit for nutrition information and one of dozens of local locations.

Alena Murguia

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