Thursday, June 24, 2010

The McDonald's Happy Meal

***WARNING! You might get offended by this post. I really go off about parenting and forming children's eating habits.***

CSPI Threatens Suit over Happy Meal Toys

What do you think?

As I said publicly a little bit ago, I believe it is NOT McDonald's fault that kids are "getting fat" from eating Happy Meals. Yes, of course the food could be healthier in the Happy Meals and yes, McNuggets could have just chicken and breading instead of 45 ingredients (eew... it's true, though, Google it.), but is it seriously McDonald's fault that our kids are eating it so much?

Nobody really seems to care that Disney does the same damn thing with their marketing and when you go to Disney World, look at the kids meals! They are pizza, nuggets, hot dogs, with fries (or apples/carrots), pop to drink, etc. If you looked at the ingredients in the meals, I'm sure it isn't any better than McD's. Oh then there's the special desserts that sometimes come with sit-down restaurant meals, the "bottomless" fries at Red Robin (and the balloons, and the *gasp* ROBIN). Other fast food restaurants have toys too... How is it any different?

I think it is nearly 100% the parents' fault their child is eating McDonalds "too much" or "so much" that it is negatively affecting the child's diet. I mean, you CAN go ahead and drive past. Your child might cry. Your child might scream at you and throw a huge friggin' tantrum, kicking the back of your seat and making your ear drums bleed. Oh well. By the time you get home and cook him some real dinner, he'll probably be over his tantrum... and maybe he'll have even worked up a real appetite for something delicious, nutritious, and homemade.

I'll never lie to you about Team V eating at McDonald's. We do. I do buy Happy Meals for my kids... occasionally.

I mean, maybe twice a month? Maybe once a week in the winter time when we go to the indoor playground just to get out of the house and make some friends? And if you count the indoor playgrounds at Burger King and Chick Fil-A, we eat at fast food places about 3 times a month. If we're traveling, maybe a little more than that.

Fast food is convenient and for the most part, it tastes good. Of course the kids love it. (Except... they don't love it. Unless my boys are starving, they eat way better at home than they do at fast food places...)

Why do we go then... other than the playground?

They love the toy in the Happy Meal. It's almost always a really cute something-or-other from a movie that they've seen or have seen commercials for and they play with those stinkin' toys endlessly!

They eat the food because it is there and I say they can't open the toy or play in the playground until they have eaten it. If it was up to them, they would play/open the toy and leave the food to rot in the little cardboard carton. Because I don't want to "waste my money" I tell them THEY HAVE TO EAT IT.

So whose fault is it? Is it McDonald's fault? Is it MY fault? Could I avoid the entire situation just by not going there? Of course I could! And would my children know any different if we didn't go there? Of course not! Would they continue to ask me to stop at "Donnie's" on our way past? Probably... Would they eventually stop having tantrums about me not stopping? I think so. Would I save money in the long run by cooking our meals at home and buying the occasional toy from toy aisle at the store? I bet!

In our lives, McDonald's Happy Meals are special treats that we occasionally get. Ian would never ask for dinner at McDonald's. That's just not how we do things around here. And if you asked him, "hey Ian, what's for lunch?" He'd tell you: soup, a sandwich, or perhaps a hot dog... and in saying it, he'd mean "at home" not "out." McDonald's is only on his mind if we happen to be passing one, or if I bring it up.

I like it that way.

I'm going to be really pissed if they take the toys out of the Happy Meals. I think that's un-American.

So now, after I re-read this, I realize I didn't really address the "real problem" that is pushing this lawsuit. The perceived problem of kids eating too much McDonald's and forming bad eating habits because of it. I still don't think it's the Happy Meal Toy's fault! How can it be? If your child is eating at McDonald's meals every day or several times a week or enough that they are getting fat from it, you need to reexamine what is really going on in your life!

Are you balancing your child's "junk food" intake with exercise opportunities? More importantly, are you feeding them chicken nuggets at home because that is all they will eat without having a tantrum? Do your children eat so many snacks that they're not hungry for the dinner you cooked? Do you cook "fast food" meals at home because that is all you think you have time for?

Did you know that it can take up to 70 times of introducing a food to your child before he will even taste it? Did you realize that means that you have to introduce new foods to your children in order for them to have an expanded palate? If you only feed your children McNuggets because "that is all they will eat" you are missing the boat on feeding your children.

I know, I've only been a mom for 3 years, and perhaps I've had it easy with my kids and their eating, but maybe it's because we've never allowed our children to "get away" with only eating the "good stuff" on their plates and leaving behind the veggies, fruits, meats, etc. (PS- I'm a total hypocrite. I'm an incredibly picky eater and my children definitely eat a more balanced diet than I do. Should I blame my parents?) I also know that there are just some things that some kids won't eat. It happens. Keep trying. Aside from potty training, it's probably the most frustrating thing that parents deal with...

Anyway, back to McDonald's Happy Meal toys...

It says in the article I posted up above:

McDonald's does use the healthier Apple Dippers in its advertising, the CSPI attorney acknowledged but once the customer actually gets to McDonald's, the apple side is almost always replaced--by default--with nutritionally inferior fries, unless the customer specifically asks for it. It's rarely, if ever, offered at the counter, he said.

Anyway, Apple Dippers are only relatively healthier, Cronin added, and send kids a mixed message: apples are only good if they're paired up with sugary caramel. Ultimately, he said, "They're forming really bad eating habits. Their healthiest meal still isn't good for you."
I think that places the blame SQUARELY on the parents, not on the Happy Meal, right? You know they have apples, so order them. And do like I do...take the caramel sauce out before you hand over the meal and toss it right in the garbage. Ian doesn't even know there IS caramel sauce for dipping. You're letting your child form a really bad eating habit. Just because McDonald's isn't stopping you doesn't mean they are to blame for your kid eating the caramel sauce!

I guess we could look at it this way... if you go and order the healthiest one (which I am assuming is a Hamburger, Apple Dippers, and White Milk, but I don't know that for sure) at least you're introducing your child to APPLES and you are getting them to drink white milk and you can use the toy as a bribe! If there isn't a toy anymore... you can't even do that.

If you made it this far, thanks for sticking it out... and sorry if I offended you. Sometimes it really is our fault, though, and we need own it. And try to change.


  1. I completely agree. I personally love McDonald's, and I think that - like all treats - there's nothing wrong with it in moderation. Most of the time, I try to choose something healthy-ish or at least small when we eat there. I don't eat a Big Mac twice a day, even though I love them. But twice a year? Sure, I bust out a Big Mac and a big fry and a milkshake, and I enjoy it. I also use the Happy Meal toy in a token economy with KA to get her to eat her supper ... and that playground works like a charm, too!

    I think the problem with SO MUCH in this country is that we've put the expectation for the babysitting, care, best interests - whatever you want to call it - of our children onto companies. They are not there to provide healthy food to your children - they are providing a product. Yes, the product may be enticing, but that's just smart business practice on the company's part - and don't forget that advertising job pays someone's salary. It is your choice to take your money there instead of somewhere else and buy that product for your child to eat it. If you don't like it, don't buy it, and they will either change their product to suit you or go out of business. That's the beauty of capitalism - the consumer has the ultimate power through their choice. If we continue to force companies to create the "appropriate" products and situations instead of letting them create products and introduce them into the marketplace, consumers will ultimately lose that power to make choices - and we won't have those little toys to use as a carrot on a stick anymore!

  2. Wow, I'm really radical - my kids have never eaten at McDonald's except for breakfast. The only fast food they get is Chick Fil A and even there, Ruby gets the grilled strips.

    I can get on the soap box about this very easily. I see no reason whatsoever to feed your kids this crap. I hate it when I see babies eating fries.

    There are so many healthy options that are quick these days that there's no excuse for your kids' palate to consist of chicken nuggets and mac & cheese. I'm not a real fan of cooking either. Most grocery stores have delis and pre-packaged items that are healthy options for non-cookers.

    It's 100% the parents' job to decide what their kids will and won't eat. Ruby would eat potato chips and ice cream all day if i'd let her. But, no healthy food, no junk food. I don't care if she does throw a fit. When they're hungry, they'll eat.

    And although I work in advertising, I'm also a member of the Center for a Commercial-Free Childhood. I don't believe advertising should be directed at kids unless there's a real benefit to them (and not one that's twisted into being sort-of good but mostly crap). A study was just released showing that junk food items with characters on them were perceived to taste better than identical products without characters. The results did not reproduce on character sponsored fruits and vegetables though. Processed food contains high levels of ingredients designed to trigger the brain in ways that whole food do not. That's why when you feed your kids crap, they don't like whole food - the whole food doesn't have the high sweetness or saltiness that the processed food has and therefore tastes bland. Try cutting out sugar and salt for a week then eat processed food, you'll taste the difference immediately.

    Phew! There you go choir, hope you enjoyed the sermon:-)

  3. Debbie- I have to tell you, I completely believe that junk food study! I "had" to buy Apple Jacks cereal this week because it had Super Mario on it! Of course I didn't have to buy it, but I gave Ian his choice of cereals in the cereal aisle this week and that's what he chose. I was glad he didn't pick fruit loops, I guess. (Comparing the two, Apple Jacks are marginally better...)

    We've also run into the Buzz & Woody Cheez-it problem... and the Buzz & Woody CHOCOLATE MILK?!

    Which, by the way, I'll admit to buying, but only for a "you've been good through the whole store" treat. Only when I got home did I realize they put artificial sweetener in it. GRRR!

    I also have to admit to "falling into" the trap of buying the *whatever* with the character on it... just to save my own sweat and tears in the store. It's SO much easier for a pregnant mom of 2 preschoolers to save a fight because she allowed the Shrek fruit snacks.

    But on the same token, my children eat 95% of their meals at home, cooked by my hands, with raw/whole ingredients and as few artificial sweeteners and preservatives as possible... and they choose veggies first off their plates at meals and frequently only want fruit for breakfast/lunch.

    I guess we are all preaching to the choir, since the ones who really need to see this are not looking. :-(

  4. oh man. this has me so stressed out, making these choices for chloe one day and stuff. i love healthy foods myself but i get super overwhelmed by the time/energy it takes to prepare it and so i don't eat it as often as I should. planning meals STRESSES ME OUTTTT.

    i will definitely try to limit fast food for sure but it will be tricky one there is another little life in the balance!