Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Beginning of the end for Happy Meals?

Today in Santa Clara California, county supervisors voted 3-2 to ban prizes from meals containing more than 485 calories.  From May 11, restaurants will have only 90 days to get rid of the toys in kid's meals or more famoulsy, McDonald's happy meals.

"McDonald's is built on the Happy Meal," said one store manager at a local McDonald's that I spoke with today.  Oddly, none of the employees in that franchise (here in GA) had even heard the news.  They were concerned though.  The manager added, "we sell about 100 Happy Meals a day here." What's more is that of all the Happy Meals for kids that are sold, lots of shuttling parents also buy a thing or two to eat.  Happy Meals are a big draw for kids, and hungry parents can hardly stand the smell of those salty, fatty number one french fries either.  I know from experience.  Usually I have to have at least one of Sarah's fries.  She's 5 and a half, so for at least 2 years we've been purchasing Happy Meals left and right.  Do we do this every night?  Absolutely not.  Do we do it every week? Probably.  It's an indulgence for her and us.  She loves the food and actually eats the meal, and we don't have to worry so much about begging her to simply eat.  No messy kitchen either.

I have mixed feelings about Happy Meal toys.  The plus side is that they make Sarah happy, and she usually thinks I'm a very cool mother for taking her there. There's an article on the McDonald's website that is aimed at dispelling the "happy meal rumor" and asserts the claim that the food is actually quite healthy.  The article quotes a professor from The University of Georgia, my alma mater!  That article is here:

The down side is, what happens to all those plastic toys?  According to the McDonald's website, there are about 13,000 restaurants in the U.S.  If the store I was in happened to be a typical store, that's an estimate of 1.3 million plastic toys per day just in the U.S.  I know that my child will grow up and abandon those toys - she usually loses interest in them within a couple of weeks or until the next set of toys comes out.  Eventually they'll go in the trash because they can't be recycled.  Are there enough holes in the Earth to hold all this trash?  If McDonald's would make the move to having their toys produced with sustainable materials, that would be better, but until the toys go away, we've got major garbage added every day to our already growing heap on the planet.

One other issue is this one: I'm a mother.  I should be able to decide what my child can or cannot eat on any given day, or at any given mealtime.  In the end, I think a better option for Santa Clara, CA would be to lead a health education campaign aimed how parents should moderate high-fat food consumption for their children.  For the parents who wish to feed their kids McDonalds food from time to time, such as myself, I doubt I'll let that stop me.  I'm quite sure there are more McDonald's right across the county line that will be happy to serve children a toy with their Happy Meals.  But as a parent, I cannot imagine driving thru at my local McDonalds and Sarah not getting a toy with her Happy Meal.

I know you have an opinion.  Let the bickering commence!

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