Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

Fast Food Nation: One Mother’s Perspective

I initially applauded the decision by Jack in the Box to remove toys from kids meals, but when you peel back the layers you see that this is just a PR move.

Box Of Fast Food Toys

Photo: puuikibeach (Flickr)

This box is full of toys collected from fast food kids meals.

There aren’t many things that get me more fired up than listening to people blame others for their problems, specifically parents blaming their poor child’s health and or obesity on the fast food industry. Now before you click that “X” in the right hand corner let me explain what I mean by that.

Mothers Make Choices

I am, by no means, a perfect mother. I have never claimed to be. But I am completely accountable for the decisions I make for myself and my children. We held-off for years on buying the boys a game system, much to the dismay of my kids. I was fine with their irritation at being “the only kids they knew” who didn’t have a Wii, PSP, DSi, etc.

We limit the choices in television programs that my kids are allowed to watch and neither of them uses the internet for anything other than school work. No social networking for them – they are 12 and 8 after all.

I was a stay-at-home mother, proudly so, when that was not very en vogue. The women I knew thought that the six weeks they had to take off post-birth was hard enough. That is their right.

In today’s economy, when a family goes to buy food and they only have $100 to last them two weeks for food, tough choices have to be made. Many are not educating themselves on how to be a frugal shopper and just want to get in and get out. I know that some parents who feel like they can’t give their children what they really want, give their kids what they can. So, if that means they are saying yes to the super cool new toy in the McDonalds happy meal this week, then that’s the choice they are making. Letting their kids have a sedentary lifestyle… that’s a choice they are making. Parental choices go on and on.

The Problem Is In The Cart

So, when I stand behind a woman at the grocery store who is talking to her kids about how they wouldn’t be so heavy if they didn’t eat at McDonald’s, it was all I could do to keep my nose out of her tirade.

Yes, McDonald’s markets their food with flashy toys from popular fads and new movies on any television channel you can hop to. I get that. They have full color ads in Parenting, Family Fun and other mainstream parent periodicals.

But in this case, with this particular woman, her problem was clearly in her cart.

I gave a quick glance in her basket to confirm that the foundation for these children’s poor (as she called it) eating habits has started in the home: two liters of pop, three different kinds of cookies, Pop-Tarts, Toaster pastries, six bags of chips, processed blocks of cheese, cheese in a can, white bread, processed meats galore, canned meals, and enough frozen pizzas to feed a little league baseball team. And she is blaming fast food?

This is the part where I tell you that I have obviously, at some point in the last 12 years as a mom, bought one or more of those listed items. Haven’t we all? I also am well aware that these convenience foods are most often the ones that have coupons in the Sunday inserts in the paper, go on the best sales, and are the most advertised. When was the last time you saw a baby carrot commercial?

No More Toys?

I initially applauded the decision by Jack In The Box to remove toys from all kids meals last week. I thought, finally, someone is stepping up. But when you peel back the layers you see that this is just a cleverly concealed PR move. The bottom line is: if you don’t want your children to eat kids meals… then don’t buy them!

I fully understand that your entire life is not lived in the confines of your home. That sometimes you have to eat elsewhere. You may have a picky eater (been there, still there) who will not eat from the “healthy area” of a menu. I had a child who would not eat anything but processed cheese slices and applesauce for an entire year. He clearly made it. Could I have given in and fed him straight from a flashy cardboard box with happy little characters dancing around having fun pictured on it? Yes. He probably would have eaten it. I was desperate to get him to eat… but not that desperate.

If You Don’t Buy It, They Won’t Come

I know this is coming off as pretentious and elitist – maybe I am a little of both. But when it comes to accountability as a parent I will wear those titles and be proud.

If I don’t want my kids to eat junk then I don’t buy it. If I have to eat out, then it is made clear that while we can sometimes have yummy treats, our dinner does not have to come with a side of fries and a dish of mac ‘n’ cheese. Has this always been easy? No, but now that my kids are older they understand the concept of moderation, we do sometimes have our cake and eat it too.

Kids Live Well

There is a new campaign to push fast food restaurants to have more healthy offerings called Kids Live Well, sponsored by the National Restaurant Association. So far, there are no dining establishments in Indiana that are boarding the healthy train, but from what I gather it is coming soon. Cracker Barrel, surprisingly, was one of the first chains to offer food selections on the kids menu that give more fruit, vegetable and non-meat choices.

Each participating restaurant must offer at least one kids meal that is less than 600 calories and includes two or more servings of fruits, vegetables, whole grain, lean protein, or low fat dairy.

This seems like a step in the right direction, but we are far from there yet. Parents need to understand that it is not just the food we feed our kids that needs attention but what we feed ourselves. Children are more apt to eat well if they see their parents and caregivers making those same healthy choices.

Heather Tallman

Heather Tallman is a Bloomington native, freelance writer and mother to 2 busy boys. She is also a food writer for her local newspaper as well as the creator of Basilmomma, a cooking blog. She writes about her culinary hits and misses and all of the life that goes along with it. Her goal is to create fast, fresh and family-friendly meals that teach her children and others that creating meals from farm to table is not only attainable but easier than you think.

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  • carla

    i agree with you 100% my little one is two, and money is tight. but i make room to buy as many veggies and fruits as possible. my 2 year old rarely eats candy b/c i have taught him, if you want something sweet and good you can have grapes instead of a lollipop or candy bar.
    i am not one of those crazy health moms. my mother fed me crap as a child and blamed me for being fat after she bought me frozen pizza, ice cream and soda. i am just trying to set a good example for my child while he is young so he wont have to suffer with health and weight issues as a teen and young adult.

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