Ever feel coerced into buying a Happy Meal so your child can get the toy? Well, Santa Clara County , California is the first to vote in favor of banning toys from children’s meals that don’t meet certain nutritional standards. They’re taking a stand against childhood obesity, and I applaud them for that.
This may sound crazy, but I think banning toys from kids’ meals will not only help obese children, but also help parents like me. I gotta admit, I’m a sucker for kids getting a prize with the meal. A meal with a toy is a convenient way to celebrate a game won, getting through a Doctor’s appointment with minimal tears or simply to put a smile on my children’s faces. Just yesterday, I was at a McDonald’s drive thru, which was still giving away How to Train Your Dragon figures. What’s up with that? – everyone knows they’re now touting Barbie in a Mermaid Tale. Well, maybe not everyone, but certainly my daughter, who was ready to try another Micky D’s in search of her booty. When the woman croaked through the speaker that they in fact would be able to give us a Barbie prize, I smiled and gave her my order. Let’s face it, the toys are truly the happiest part of the meal. That’s why I think the ban is brilliant; it’s cutting the tie between junk food and reward.
There are lots of reasons parents turn to fast food, they find the meals cost conscious, convenient, and the smiles on their childrens’ faces make them feel like they’ve done something good. Unfortunately these meals, that are anything but healthy, are contributing to the obesity epidemic. The CDC says the obesity rate in children has more than tripled in the last 30 years. I can’t help but think that the lack of nutritious options at fast food chains has added to those statistics. The toy prizes are simply the bait at the end of the hook.
I don’t mean to sound like a Grinch. As evidenced, I get the value of the prize. I may even have some California Raisin figures and plastic chicken McNuggets dressed as pirates, circa 1984, floating around my house. It’s because I know how fun it is to “collect them all,” that I agree with this necessary measure to make fatty childrens’ meals less enticing. The ban is only for meals that are over 485 calories, which by the way, includes any meals you would find at a drive-thru. Rather than hearing about how the fast food chains will fight this ordinance, I’d like to hear about the new healthier meals they’re creating to come in under the calorie count. I’m no therapist, but shouldn’t rewards be associated with something good?