Step Away from the Happy Meal and No One Gets Hurt

MCDonald'sI’m reminded how my boys inherited my genes every time we drive up to the Golden Arches. As a boy, whenever I got the chance to sit in the family car’s driver’s seat I pretended to steer us to the nearest McDonald’s.

My sons aren’t in love with Big Macs, fries or apple pies. It’s the toy in each Happy Meal that motivates them. Children get as much pleasure from a $2 trinket as they do a $50 toy, a lesson every parent should take to heart for their financial solvency.

That hasn’t stopped some parents from demonizing McDonald’s and everything associated with those Golden Arches. Even, gasp, those beloved Happy Meals.

Next month, McDonald’s will try to appease the McHaters with a new Happy Meals promotion. The company will include books with every Happy Meal from Nov. 1-14. The stories will feature McDonald’s characters exploring topics like nutrition and active play.

That still isn’t enough for some folks.

“It’s definitely more of the same,” says Jesse Bragg, spokesman for corporate watchdog group Corporate Accountability. “It’s just a way to get their brand in front of kids in a very subversive way.”

Bragg is surly because the promotion, which could inspire positive reading habits as well as strong life lessons, also pack a branding punch.

I beg to differ, and not for capitalistic reasons.

I grew up longing for the toys in every sugar cereal box. I would stalk the supermarket aisles trying to figure out which cereal offered the best toy. At home, I tilted the cereal box so I could snare the buried treasure. My boys are essentially doing the same with their Happy Meals. Their joy mirrors what I felt as a lad, and I love re-living it through their eyes.

That doesn’t diminish the bigger picture here. McDonald’s food isn’t good for you, assuming you eat the standard burger/fries/soda combination. As a parent, it’s my job to make sure my sons learn good nutrition and keep sticky sweets to a minimum. An occasional trip to the Drive-Thru will not impact those lessons. In fact, denying them such sinful treats does more harm than good.

Besides, sometimes my sons let me play with the Happy Meals toys – but only for a minute.


  1. says

    I couldn’t agree with you more! Great post! I am teaching my son that McDonald’s is a “sometimes food”. There are no such things as “good” or “bad” foods because I think labeling something “bad” just makes it forbidden fruit and we all know how that turned out!

    • Christian Toto says

      A ‘sometimes’ food … I like that. I’ll never forget the little boy who went to my bus stop years ago. His mom didn’t let him do anything fun … he was totally controlled. So anything that was ‘not allowed’ seemed extra special and great. Naturally, when exposed to those things he overreacted wildly. That tiny memory never left me, and as a parent I never want to make minor sins like eating a Big Mac taboo for that reason.

  2. says

    Well, hmm…. I think that when it comes to feeding children the adage “everything in moderation” is darn helpful, so if my kids want to get fast food I’ll consent once in a blue moon. They prefer Taco Bell to McDonald’s, however, though my 16yo daughter wouldn’t even drink a glass of water from either place.

    Still, there’s no denying that the fast food meals are unhealthy. You can indeed look at any of a number of Web sites to see the fat content, calories, sugars, and mystery additives that these large corporations use to maximize profit. And since they are indeed for-profit corporations, I do not resent them seeking to maximize their revenue. I mean, that’s the basis of capitalism after all. But once in the proverbial blue moon is fine. More often than that and I would worry that you’re setting up your children for lifelong bad eating habits, Christian…

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