Background: the number of meals and snacks eaten away from home contributes to excess caloric intake in children, yet very little data exist on fast-food purchasing patterns in families. thus, the purpose of this study was to evaluate the nutritional quality of food purchased for children at a fast-food restaurant and report the reasons for dining at the fast-food restaurant. Methods: Purchase receipts and surveys were collected from 544 families with children (aged 2-18) who ate lunch in a fast-food restaurant during weekdays over the course of 6 weeks. the nutritional quality of meals purchased for children in three age groups (2-5 yr, 6-11yr, 12-18 yr) and adults was calculated from the receipts. the reasons for eating lunch at the fast-food restaurant that day were tallied from survey responses. Results: the average calorie content of meals purchased for youth ranged from 646 to 811 calories, which represents 36-51% of age-and gender-specific daily caloric needs. the highest caloric purchases as a percentage of estimated total daily caloric needs were for preschoolers (51%). Adult meal purchases contained an average of 797 calories. Meals purchased for school-aged children represented >50% of the recommended daily sodium intake and almost 100% of the recommended amount for preschool children. Overall, meals purchased were high in fat and sodium and low in fiber. the most frequent reasons for dining at the fast-food restaurant were that children and adults liked the food and convenience. Conclusions: these data suggest that families purchase fast-food meals that are predominantly calorically dense and sodium rich, which may increase overall caloric and sodium intake for the day, increasing the risk of obesity and hypertension. Future studies should assess the nutritional content of purchases according to age at a variety of restaurant chains and locations.