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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Banning Fast Food Toys and Eliminating Ronald McDonald: What’s Next?

In my own backyard, Santa Clara County supervisors have banned the sale of toys in fast food kid’s meals. No more Star Wars figurines, mini Guitar Hero trinkets, or cute little furry creatures. They are going by the wayside, like the decoder rings and wind-up animals we used to find in cereal boxes. Open up a cardboard Happy Meal and all you get is food and…disappointment. This comes on the heels of protests across the country calling for the demise of Ronald McDonald, that mop-haired figurehead of fast food at the Golden Arches.

Kids have come to expect treats when they eat out. In fact, back in the day when I actually ate fast food, I used to order Happy Meals myself just to collect the toys for children who visited my house. I mean, if you are going to eat a hamburger anyway, why not get a bonus? While the intent is noble, to help eradicate childhood obesity, McDonald’s will continue to sell Happy Meals, as will all other fast food chains, but now the kid just gets the calories. The target needs to be the adults who buy the fast food, too often, for their children.

Happy Meals and its brethren are available with healthier options, such as low-fat milk or apple juice instead of soda, and apple slices instead of fries. A better solution would be to change the menu to reflect these choices. All kid’s meals will come with milk and apples, no soda and no fries. Period. And they get a toy. You don’t want apples and milk? Then buy off the regular menu. The kids have a choice, as do their parents. If they want a toy, they get the milk and apples. No apples, no toy. Kind of like broken record your mother once was, “If you don’t finish your vegetables, you don’t get dessert.”

The no fries/no soda option is what Santa Clara has in mind anyway. The ban is specific in that it bans restaurants from including toys in meal packages with more than 485 calories or 600 mg of sodium, as well as meals that have more than 35% of total calories from fat or 10% from added sugar. This would preclude chocolate milk and sugary juices in favor of low-fat milk and 100% fruit juice.

Ultimately it is up to us as parents to make wise choices for our children, whether it is the cereal we buy, choices in dining, or allowing our kids to sit in front of a computer, video game, TV instead of participating in a healthier activity. Parents need to set an example and provide the best nutrition they can based on the budget they have. While this can be a challenge, it can be done with a little effort and effort is what it will take to eliminate obesity in our children.

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