reporting from San Francisco, land of the unhappy meal

This week, I’m performing Mother Load in three northern CA cities, and I hope you’ve already told your friends in Vacaville, San Ramon, and Campbell, cause it’s going down tonight. I had a lovely child-free drive up from San Francisco yesterday afternoon, and the lovely landscape was only slightly marred by the news being broadcast across the radio that San Francisco was about to enact a ban on all Happy Meal toys.

Turns out that news was premature: apparently the mayor has vowed this morning to veto the ban, which some will say is because he’s in the pocket of old McDonald, but I say is because he has an ounce of sense in his head.

Seriously, I think this is one of the sillier things I’ve ever heard. Do toys in Happy Meals make kids want them? Hell, yes. But it’s not like the Happy Meal is the only unhealthy choice at McDonald’s. If kids don’t get a cheeseburger and fries with a toy, their option will be… to get a cheeseburger and fries without a toy. Who is this helping? How is this helping kids make healthier food choices?

I am going to make a bold statement here: out of the 150,000 playthings in our house, perhaps the most popular is a tiny “Guitar Hero” speaker that came in a Happy Meal many moons ago. For a time, it has been each of my children’s most prized possession. Maggie has been walking around with it lately, held to her ear like a ghetto blaster, and swiveling her hips madly to its tinny beat. Seamus thinks his aunt could save a lot of money on her wedding next fall: if we just bring the Guitar Hero radio with us, why, there’ll be no need for a band or DJ.

I love Happy Meals. They make my children inordinately happy. And the toy is the best part. I don’t take them every day, or every week, or every month- but I’m glad the Happy Meal is out there. Get the milk instead of the juice box, and the apple dippers instead of the fries, and toss the caramel dipping sauce, and I honestly don’t think it’s that bad. And I want that to be MY decision to make. If you want to be a killjoy, fine, but let my kid have his cheaply-made Shrek “Puss in Boots” with poseable arm and meowing action, if you don’t mind.

How about you? Do Happy Meals make you happy? Would you be in favor of a fast-food toy ban in your community?

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Carrie November 12, 2010 at 6:58 pm

I'm with you. Removing toys from the meal isn't going to make less people buy them. Quite possibly the dumbest thing I've heard in a long time. My 2 yr old treasures a tiny, ridiculous yoda skateboard from a happy meal and it's gotten us thru many a rough trip to the grocery store. 🙂

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Amanda@runninghood November 12, 2010 at 8:06 pm

I personally am not a fan of McDonald's. I wish there was a healthier version of drive through for busy moms who don't want to get their kids out of the car. I love the idea of a "happy meal" where my kids get a cheap toy (even though it often gets thrown away at the end of the week) but I wish Whole Foods or New Seasons would come up with a drive up window where I could order a half turkey sandwich thing that came with a toy instead of McDonalds. I know they are trying to turn their image around but their food is still full of all kinds of crap that I'd rather not get myself or my kids hooked on. Just knowing what those chicken nuggets are made of and how they are processed make me sick. Do I go every once and awhile, yes…it is easy and there are some days when it is fun to "treat" my kids to their kind of fun. Do I feed them chicken nuggets even though I'm not so sure how much "chicken" they actually get? Yes. Do they like it? Yes! Do I think removing the toys from the happy meal is going to make people buy them less? Maybe. Part of what gets me to go is my kids in the back seat with their sweet little voice begging "please mommy, can we go to McDonald's to get a free toy and a happy meal". So yes, I think think I would be in favor of a ban…no sweat of my back and if it wasn't there and the toy wasn't there then there would be no guilt on my part for saying no and being the mom who is a stick in the mud that the other moms make fun of for being too stuck up about fast food. I've definitely had my fair share of Mc D's and don't judge those that are a fan. I just think life wouldn't take a hit if we got rid of it and found a healthier replacement for fast food…for moms, kids, and those people that don't know what they are really eating.

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zena November 12, 2010 at 8:21 pm

It's not solving anything. If your kid wants a Happy Meal because of a toy, how about being a parent and saying NO. Seems to be working okay in this house. Besides, it's not the 4 year olds driving themselves to McDonald's, it's the PARENTS. Everything in moderation.

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Lynnelle November 13, 2010 at 4:22 am

I have a child who loves McD's fries and honestly it is what she gets as a reward for a good school week. I know…I know…but to have a kid with special needs who has sensory issues with food it's soooo worth it. Please keep the toy!

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Anonymous November 15, 2010 at 12:25 am

Unless I'm mistaken, the issue isn't eliminating toys from McDonald's meals. The issue is eliminating toys from meals that are full of empty calories, salt, and saturated fat.
If McDonald's decided to provide a less caustic meal, qualified by proven nutritional guideposts, they would then be allowed to put all the toys in the Happy Meal box they want.
So, to me, in effect, this is a GOOD idea, in that it will tend to prompt kids to order less obnoxious food choices to get to the toy.
I'm just surprised any parent would have a problem with that. Perhaps it's because parents think, because the kids are young, they are akin to having goats, who should be able to function on just about anything, with no worries of unfortunate long term results.
But consider this: Soldiers who were killed in WWII, when autopsied, had virtually and consistently, NO arteosclerotic plaque lining their blood vessles. Soldiers who were autopsied during the Viet Nam war were different. Virtually all of them had significant amounts of plaque.
What's the difference in our food eating habits between those two eras? When did fast foods become part of the fabric of American life?
Anyway, I'm for the new legislation. McDonald's will respond with something better for kids to eat, and they still get their toys.

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Courtney November 15, 2010 at 3:40 pm

Some things I just don't have time to think about, and this is one of them. If my daughter associates a toy with her fatty McDonalds meal, then yeah, as a Mom, I don't like that. So we don't go to McDonalds very often, and she eats healthy food most of the time, but when she wants a treat, I'll take her to the diner where they have awesome burgers and if she wants a new little cheap crappy toy, I'll buy her one, and then she isn't missing anything!

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Anonymous November 18, 2010 at 4:18 pm

I am a mom who loves Happy Meal toys myself – especially the Madame Alexander dolls!
-Margy S.

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AC November 20, 2010 at 11:28 pm

McDonald's is a rare indulgence for my kids. If we are going for fast food it will most likely be Burger King.

Then there was the two month period last summer when not only did I eat them, I convinced my coworkers to go to McDonalds and order Happy Meals for lunch. I'm not made of stone. What else could I do when we simply had to have every American Girl mini book. The girls never got a Happy Meal. I on the other hand have not had one since.

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Buckeye Mom November 22, 2010 at 2:01 am

You took the words right out of my mouth. When I heard about this ridiculous ban that was to take place in San Francisco I nearly fell out of my chair. This, coming from someone who wholly supports the whole Jamie Oliver "Food Revolution." An occasional Happy Meal does not make children fat. Parents should simply stop buying them day after day! I order my children the Happy Meal with white milk and apple dippers! Wa-Lah! Not so bad. My own pediatrician said if it weren't for Happy Meals, many children would rarely get any protein! It's time for the parents to own up to their responsibilities and give their chidlren healthier foods. Thanks for blogging on this topic.

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