Happy Meals May Start Making Children Sad -I’m Happy About it

happy meal
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?

11 thoughts on “Happy Meals May Start Making Children Sad -I’m Happy About it

  1. Barry

    Great article. It would be wonderful if fast food restaurants put that little extra effort into a little more nourishment. They have a captive audience, the kids and the parents.

  2. Bari

    Finally, someone with some sense understands the true meaning of positive reinforcemt! It’s not reward just for the fun of it. It’s reward for the completion of a desired behavior. I suggest getting a bunch of
    inexpensive little toys (preferably not
    from China) and give one to your child as he or she makes a
    healthy food choice. That way they learn to choose good food independant of any restaurant program. If McDonald’s gets the point that parents won’t
    accept unhealthy choices for their kids and the kids won’t demand them (cause mommy’s got toys in her pocket) they just may get motivated to change the menu.

  3. Pam

    Kudos! As a super busy full time working mommy of two preschoolers fast foods restaurants are my worst enemy! The convenience factor gets me every time. Thanks for the reminders of long term affect outweighing short term conveniences. I need to stop by the dollar store and get some cheap prizes!

  4. Tiffany

    Another great blog. There is a McDonald’s directly across from my son’s daycare. At three, he’s already saying, Mommy, McDonald’s? I say, heck no it’s turkey dogs for you! (okay, i’m not the healthiest person either).

    I’ve seen first hand what a Happy Meal toy can do to a child (my nephew) and he is obese from weekly, neigh, up to three times a week at a fast food restaurant looking for that toy. The industry needs to reconsider what they are selling to our children and parents need to know how hooked our kids can become to the happy meal toy. Go California!

  5. cherie

    Terrific article. Give it to em. They were supposed to come out with healthy choices, not only for adults, but for children most of all. The only problem is the licensing that McDonalds has with Disney and Pixar. What you have to do is hit them to. If they didn’t offer these toys to them, then they wouldn’t be able to intice our children to turn into fat pigs. They have to come up with a healthier HAPPY MEAL. We need to send a message.

  6. nancy schutt

    Way to go Jennie!
    so many connections to make, so little time. Junk food/positive reinforcement/obesity, and later, rosacea/dark eye circles/sleeplessness, geographic tongues/then the big boogie man, cancer. You remember Joe Camel? nothing compared to rewards for indulging in fatty, nutritionless, sugary, salty crapola. Lifetime achievements there. Not where you want your kids to go! or yourself for that matter.

  7. rachy

    trying to collect them all reminds me of at least one quest that involved stops at about 5 or 6 mcdonalds in search of a certain toy.

    here’s an idea for a happy meal at home. using some lettuce, cut carrots, a slice or two of meat and/or cheese, some grapes, and a little creativity, and create a “happy face” plate with good nutritious food!

  8. Jenni

    I agree with this but I have to say… I’m tired of people blaming the Fast Food Industry for obesity. It’s our choices as adults and parents what we eat and what we feed our kids. My child has had a happy meal maybe 10 times in her life (she’s 2.5). I usually will get the healthier choice (apples instead of fries, milk or juice istead of soda). But it’s my choice to feed her that. I worked for one of the Fast Food chain’s corporate offices and they did try to introduce healthy options. They pulled most of them because they weren’t profitable. People just weren’t buying them. We need to take more ownership and responsibility for our food choices.

  9. Bill Dwight

    As a Dad of 5 and a fitness/health fanatic, I can empathize, but I like Jenni’s comment just above and the quote from Albert Einstein: “Man must cease attributing his problems to his environment, and learn again to exercise his will – his personal responsibility.” (BTW: I’m sure Albert meant “Man” in the general sense of Man + Woman! 😉

  10. Richard Berrye

    Thanks on your marvelous posting! I certainly enjoyed reading it, you can be a great author.I will make sure to bookmark your blog and will come back sometime soon. I want to encourage you to ultimately continue your great job, have a nice weekend!


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