What Makes a Meal Happy?

05 Nov

San Francisco – Home to the Giants (this year’s World Series Champions!) and the Golden Gate Bridge.  Known for its activism and as a forward-thinking city.  But, on November 2nd, San Francisco earned a new notch on its “accomplishment” belt – the banning of happy meals.

Well, while it is being called the “Happy Meal Ban,” it actually does not ban the meals themselves, but states that any meal must meet nutritional guidelines in order to include a toy, thus attacking one of the fundamental elements of the happy mealThe New York Times reports that the bill’s sponsor, Eric Mar, was “horrified by his daughter’s collection of giveaway toys.”  My thought would be, stop bringing your child to McDonalds Mr. Mar.

I think that we can all agree that America overall has become too unhealthy.  Obesity is a major problem for children and adults alike.  The following are some statistics on obesity from a 2007-2008 study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:   

  • 34% of adults age 20 and over are obese
  • 34% of adults age 20 and over are overweight (and not obese)
  • 18% of adolescents age 12-19 years are obese
  • 20% of children age 6-11 years are obese
  • 10% of children age 2-5 years are obese

Stemming from obesity, health costs increase due to the panoply of ailments and diseases that are much more common and likely when a person is overweight, eating poorly and being a slug.

Still, I dislike the idea of this ban.  First, think about why people go to McDonalds in the first place.  One reason is that its fast so if you are short on time, it’s the perfect answer.  Many of my fast food memories growing up were, ironically, in between softball games or volleyball matches when you only would have like an hour to drive around an unfamiliar place, get food and come back hopefully without having to eat so quickly that you will throw it all up during the next game.

Another reason some people would give is that it’s cheap.  Yes, I realize that it is only slightly more money to buy food at the grocery store if you are shopping the discounts and being smart with your choices.  However, for those who say that McDonalds or any other fast food is attractive because it’s cheap, the absence of a toy with the meal will not change this fact.

Then you have people like my dad who just like the taste.  It wouldn’t matter if he was a millionaire with all the time in the world, he simply enjoys going to McDonalds.  Is it unhealthy?  Of course.  And yes, I do try to get him to eat better.  Still, some people just like the taste of it.  Again, these people are not going to be deterred just because they don’t get the toy. 

Another point to consider is that if the kids really want the toy and its the draw for going, then the parents will likely pay a small sum for the toy.  I can remember only one time when I was younger when I wanted to go to McDonalds just because of the toy – the Beanie Baby craze.  And, when we would go, my parents would buy the toys there.  It didn’t matter if they were free with the meal or not.  It was just as if it was a toy at Toys R Us or Target.  I know that this is just my experience and I am not saying that the toy with the happy meal isn’t a gimmick.  I’m not saying that kids don’t like the toys and that the combination of toys and playplaces don’t make McDonalds seemingly more fun for a kid.  My point is, taking away the free toy is not going to prevent people from going to McDonalds and making unhealthy choices.

If we want to work on our health, kids need to learn about healthy eating in school; gym classes, recess and sports programs should remain in place; and PARENTS need to take a more active role in raising their own kids.  My parents were busy when I was growing up too, but when we did things as a family, we went camping, hiking, fishing, etc.  We were active, we played outside in the yard, etc.  Don’t bring your kid to McDonalds every day and they won’t eat McDonald’s every day.

Additionally, even if I agreed with the intent of this ban, it has major flaws.  People can just leave the city limits and get their happy meals with toys at a neighboring McDonalds.  McDonalds could also work around the ordinance by charging 25 cents for the toy with a purchase of the happy meal.  Also, you are not removing all of the incentives to go to McDonalds.  Finally, this ban is going about things in the wrong way.  Our country should be about freedom and choice, along with the necessary education and tools to make informed (and hopefully smart) decisions.  We shouldn’t go around banning anything that could be unhealthy.  Self control and moderation people!  Should Cheetos remove Chester the Cheetah from their bags?  Should the Keebler Elves come off of the cookie packages?  Maybe we should ban the sale of any candy, junk food, or fast food so that parents can’t buy these items for their kids…

1 Comment

Posted by on November 5, 2010 in Food and Drink


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One response to “What Makes a Meal Happy?

  1. Sheridan

    November 8, 2010 at 10:11 am

    I don’t entirely disagree with the ban. I think fast food restaurants should make their meals nutritious, especially for children. If this is going to help them shape up their act then I’m all for it. They’re just prohibiting the use of toys to market their kids’ meals unless it contains less than 600 calories; less than 640 mg of sodium; less than 35 percent of calories from fat; less than 10 percent from saturated fat (with exception for nuts, seeds, eggs or low-fat cheese); and has a serving of fruits and/or vegetables. I don’t think it’s ridiculous to request fast food restaurants to reformulate their kid’s meals to meet those standards to include Hot Wheels cars.


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