Best fast-casual restaurants for families

Households with children account for over 30% of all food away-from-home expenditures. Capturing this market means offering not only children’s meals that appeal to both children and their parents, but also having a family-friendly facility.

The July 2009 issue of Parents magazine ranked the top fast-casual restaurant chains for families. Fast-casual restaurants are basically a hybrid of sit-down and fast food restaurants—you order at the counter and get your food quickly, but fast-casuals offer a broader menu, higher quality and better seating and atmosphere than typical fast-food restaurants.

Parents magazine examined 50 fast-casual chains. They examined kid menus for calories, fat and sodium. Any chains that didn’t offer nutritional information were disqualified. Then they checked for family-friendly features such as restroom changing tables, booster seats for toddlers, things kids can do if they finish the meal before the adults, etc. The top chains all offered at least three healthy kids’ meals, family-friendly features and good tasting food.

Here’s what Parents liked about the top three chains:

  1. Cosi
    Every kids’ entrée contains less than 425 calories and sodium averages only 432 milligrams, about half of what is found at other restaurants. The sides include baby carrots, fresh fruit or potato chips cooked in unsaturated oil. A drink option is a small apple juice box or a cup of milk.
  2. Jason’s Deli
    For under $3, kids can get a nitrate-free hot dog with organic carrots and organic milk or juice. Nothing on Jason’s kids’ menu costs more than $4 or contains trans fat, nitrates or high-fructose corn syrup.
  3. Noodles & Company
    All the restaurant’s 18 noodle bowls, soups and salads come in two sizes so children can get the right portion of whatever they want. The mac ‘n’ cheese, buttered noodles and pasta with marinara sauce are all less than 450 calories for the small portion.

The other seven top ranking fast-casuals are:

  1. Fazoli’s
  2. Panera Bread
  3. ZPizza
  4. Atlanta Bread
  5. Corner Bakery Café
  6. Taco Del Mar
  7. McAlister’s Deli

For the full details from Parents magazine, click here.