Ever since the movie “SuperSize Me” was released there’s been an increased focus on the health risks that eating fast food brings with it, and what we as parents can do to stop our children from eating so darn much of it. At the same time, the fast food companies themselves attempt to increase sales through sophisticated marketing techniques, like cheap plastic toys that come free with the meal.
But last week there was an interesting development in the fast food wars when San Francisco’s board of supervisors voted to ban most of McDonald’s Happy Meals. First of all, I’m not sure what a “board of supervisors” is (although they sound official), and secondly it’s actually not the food they’re banning…it’s that plastic toy that comes with it. As I understand it, restaurants now cannot offer a free toy with meals that have more than a pre-approved level of calories, sugar and fat.
Bribing children to eat food they don’t like is something I am intimately familiar with (pick up my new book Shut Up and Read for starters), but honestly I’ve never understood the need to offer an incentive to get them to eat a fast food meal; I save that option for the nasty meals I make at home.
But there’s a bigger problem. I assume that all restaurants are still able to offer some other sort of crafty incentive, outside the realm of landfill worthy plastic toys, to motivate their young customers to want to purchase their meals at their location versus a competitor. How about…say…oh just off the top of my head…dessert? Because really, why give them a toy to play with when they can get a double chocolate fudge sundae instead?
Now, don’t get me wrong, I think initiatives to address the very serious problem of childhood obesity are terrific; I’m just not sure that the elimination of the Shrek3 mini-catapult toy is going to be effective. After all, aren’t I, the parent, and the one who’s responsible for and able to choose most of the food my children eat? I think so, particularly the ones who are still of the age where a plastic light up ring from a current movie still incents them on where and what to eat. And as that parent, I can choose to stop going to a restaurant which I feel is jeopardizing my kids’ health, whenever I want. Can’t I?
As I said, I myself have been known on many occasions to offer dessert as a bribe, but, and this is the key thing, it’s on condition that the child eat a nutritious (and therefore less appealing) meal before they get to it, not as a reward for eating a deep-fried hot dog on a stick. In fact, as far as I know, the successful “HotDog on a Stick” franchise in the US still continues to offer “Cheese on a Stick” as well, yet they remain untouched by the ominous board of supervisors. I’ll be the first to forewarn them to never call the “stick” an “authentic raft building collection piece” for fear they may be shut down from marketing to kids as well.
I’m sort of hoping that a child will rebel against this new anti-toy law, calling it “ageist”, for as long as bars in California can continue to offer free appetizers during Happy Hour we still have the adult version of “free toy with purchase” and that doesn’t really seem fair, does it? (Okay yes, yes it does.)
Kathy Buckworth’s latest book, “Shut Up and Eat: Tales of Chicken, Children and Chardonnay” is available at bookstores everywhere.