Wednesday, July 27, 2011

How Are We Teaching Our Children to Eat? Some Comments on McDonald's

Unfortunately, eating fast food regularly is a reality for many families 
I'm not quite sure what to think about McDonald's pledge to improve the nutritional offerings of their trademark Happy Meal. By the end of 2012 all Happy Meals will automatically include apple slices and the calorie content will be decreased by 20%. This is good, but will it really make a difference in battling childhood obesity? The bottom line for me is that allowing your kids to grow up eating McDonald's food (or any fast food) is like throwing them in a swimming pool without lessons and expecting them to know what to do. Let me explain.

When my kids were young, I would meet other mothers at a Maryland McDonald's so our kids could play. Our local McD's had a Playplace for the kids to climb and run. After an hour of play, we would buy the children Happy Meals. I noticed that my kids and my friend's kids would eat only a very little bit. We ended up throwing at least half of the meal away. The kids were little (under 5 years) so of course they couldn't eat the whole meal. We did this a few times and there were times that I did this with my kids alone. Despite being in the metropolitan Washington DC area, I was lonely and isolated from my friends because it took at least an hour to get anywhere. Letting my children play at McDonald's got us out of the house.

When I moved to Rochester, NY my two older children were 4 and 2 years old. I began stopping in at the corner McDonald's at lunch time on occasion. As I sat watching my kids barely eat their meals I finally got some sense. By continuing to take my kids to McDonald's I was teaching them to like fast food. In the world of nutrition and health, I was teaching them how to drown.

McDonald's will most likely benefit from all the hoopla surrounding their recent press release. Consumers will view the company as caring and wanting to improve the health of children. I don't believe it! Large companies care about their finances. If they truly cared about childhood obesity, they wouldn't market their foods to children with toys. The toys in Happy Meals will still be offered. McDonald's wants your children to learn how to like their food so that they will continue to eat it as they grow up.

I read through several comments at the end of one of the online articles about this topic. One reader suggested that McDonald's trash should be evaluated for all the wasted Happy Meal produce. I'm sure that there are a lot of wasted hamburgers, chicken nuggets and French fries in that trash too. We give up so easily when teaching our children how to eat better. We stop offering vegetables because they won't eat them not knowing that the simple act of consistently offering healthy foods is important.

My question to those who give up trying to feed their kids healthy foods; would you stop teaching them math just because they are having difficulty with subtraction? The way to work towards combating childhood obesity is to feed your children lots of vegetables, not buying them the "healthier" Happy Meal.

I'm giving away the family cookbook No Whine with Dinner by fellow RD's Janice Newell Bissex and Liz Weiss. Comment on this blog post by August 31st, 2011 and you will be entered to win this cookbook to help your kids eat healthier (just in time for the new school year)!