Your response to McDonald’s plans to improve the nutritional value of its Happy Meals likely depends on whether you view Happy Meals as an occasional treat or a near-daily staple.
McDonald's announced yesterday that it would, starting in September, make its kid-focused meals more healthful by cutting back on the fries, adding apple slices (sans caramel dipping sauce) and automatically offering 1 percent white milk or fat-free chocolate milk (though soda’s still available); kids can order two orders of apples instead if they don’t want the fries.
Yes, kids (and adults) who consume extra calories every day will gain weight. Eating a Happy Meal every day, or several times a week, even, might well pack on extra pounds without providing much in the way of nutrition. Sadly, that’s apparently what is going on in too many American families.
But some of us, somehow, despite McDonald’s rampant marketing aimed at our children, manage to make Happy Meals just a once-in-a-while adventure. If that means that, once in a while, my kid will eat an extra hundred calories, well... that’s why we do it just once in a while.
One of my very happy memories from when my daughter, now almost 18, was a toddler is of our visiting McDonald’s every Friday evening. She’d sit proudly in the birthday chair (though we never actually went there on her birthday) and eat her little Happy Meal. My husband and I would enjoy a burger and fries, too. We all liked seeing what the toy turned out to be and playing with it together on the tabletop. Money was tight then, and that felt like a lot of fun for a few dollars.
But we indulged once a week. The rest of the time, mostly, we cooked at home. And now that she’s practically grown up, I can report that my daughter almost never eats at McDonald’s.
McDonald’s would surely not be making this change (and a raft of related ones) if the company weren’t convinced the move would be good for business. I’m not suggesting we send them flowers or anything. But they are offering, whether in response to pressure or of their own volition, a new and better option for those who buy lots of Happy Meals. Give them credit for that.
Now it’s our turn to put on our parent hats and recognize that if we’re feeding our kids Happy Meals on a regular basis, we are doing something wrong. And if we’re doing it because our heavily-marketed-to kids insist we do so, then we’re doing at least one more thing wrong, too.