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Oh yes that’s what one news anchor called in when a 9 year old girl, her mother in tow, showed up at a Illinois shareholders meeting to confront McDonald’s CEO saying she thought it was unfair that they, McDonald’s, tried to trick kids into eating food that wasn’t good for them with toys and cartoon characters. Aside from this being yet another food police battle against a fast food chain, restaurant, that doesn’t sell things found on a diet plan, in other words any restaurant that sells cooked food, served to the customer, there is a question of the help she had in doing so. Her mother is a health food blogger/activist and they traveled with an advocacy group that directly opposes McDonald’s marketing, leading many to believe her message, her passion is not genuine but parroted from her mother who needs to stop using her child to fight an adult battle. At the same time here is a child who lives in a house with someone who sees themselves as a health food guru, who by default doesn’t let their child have sweets, candy or “junk food” almost on an obsessive level, to prevent so called lifestyle illnesses, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, a child who admits she’s only tried McDonald’s once at age 2 or 3 and doesn’t even remember if she liked it. So how can she possibly say that this fast food chain, fast food places are tricking children with toys and cartoons; maybe they just like it even if she still doesn’t. Similarly, while the CEO’s response does sound like a cop out, the child like a puppet in a larger, grown up game, for which said grownups should be ashamed, that’s not the biggest problem with this latest round of food war arguments.

 No the biggest problem with the latest person to step onto this stage and decry junk food sold in restaurants, fast food drive- thru’s isn’t their age, isn’t the implied warning about the marketing being bombarded at our kids; instead it is the inherent fallacy of the message, not that fast food isn’t good for you, but the idea you are tricking kids into eating it with toys, cartoons, games and fun things. Such an argument shows just how unfamiliar this girl and her mother are with the fast food experience of any family comprised of a child or children under 12. In fact if there is any trickery to be had it is on the parents and their wallets; the gimmick is aimed at getting kids to trick their parents into coming to the establishment and buy whatever it takes to get the toy. Thus resulting in money spent for whatever chain and the food becomes secondary to both corporation and many times to the child was well; how many of us, myself included, have seen children with a happy meal and they’re squirming for the toy, the parents have to practically force them to eat, still half the food ends up either on the floor or in a doggy bag headed home? Further why pick on just McDonald’s nearly ever fast food chain offers a kids menu along with a prize, a bag or box with word finds, mazes and yes, cartoons that again have kids more interested in it than the food; Burger King has a kids club you can join, that is in states, cities counties, municipalities where they haven’t already banned toys and kid attracting anything in said meals as a misguided effort to curb obesity in this country. Perhaps mother and child activist would have been better off taking that tact since it’s at least had some success rather than useless redundancy that becomes white noise in the public’s ears. Perhaps they would be better off going after the calorie count in any kids meal or attacking the Burger King big kids meal as too much food, too many calories; something else garnering success in the food police state emerging in the land of the free and the home of the brave, forget it was designed for the older child 8-12, not zero to 5. Moreover their argument ignores the healthier options placed on all parts of the menu by consumer, customer demand; it ignores the fact it is up to parents to choose the apple dippers over fries, milk over soda, plain milk over chocolate, chicken nuggets over hamburger or cheeseburger, for themselves to choose the salad over other options, to get bottled water not soda, to choose the fruit and yogurt parfait, the oatmeal with fruit rather than the bacon egg and cheese Mc-muffin, Mc-griddle choices in order to  maximize healthy eating while eating out. McDonald’s CEO likewise made a point less about the believability of whether or not they indeed sell junk food and instead was dead on when he spoke of customer buying habits that one day they might buy a big mac the next time a salad; something that is typical behavior especially for persons who eat there frequently, daily at lunch let’s say.

Missed completely is why fast food places, eating establishments providing any kind of family atmosphere also provide a kids meal, a play place to begin with, because they recognized two things; one, families need and want, have asked for, a family friendly environment to bring their kids to, especially in this day and age where more and more adults are turning on parents for daring to bring their small children in public, forget to a place usually seen as for adult crowds only. And two, having a kids meal, usually at a reduced price, offers not only things children will eat and eat with gusto, preventing money wasted for the restaurant, but simultaneously gives built in incentive for customers with children to A- buy at all, but B- to return to a place where everyone had such a positive experience, all translating into more money for the restaurant in question by giving what consumers, not corporations, desire. The addition of play places at both McDonald’s and Burger King encompass something bigger than solely another way to get kids and parents in their doors and buying their product; they meet the demand of parents and caregivers to provide a place where both kids and adults can have a meal and children can be suitably entertained while adults talk, relax or simply enjoy a meal in public without the added task of refereeing children, a plan that will not only ensure repeat customers but more and more frequent customers, ironically likewise giving kids a chance to run off a portion of the horrible calories they consumed. Play areas additionally provide an ideal inexpensive, pre-prepared space for a birthday party, special occasion involving a large number of kids; funny Chuck E. Cheese has been doing it for years and hardly anyone said a word. Once more making the food secondary to I wanna go there for the video and other games, not just the pizza, I wanna go there because there’s a playground inside, I wanna go there because after I eat, I can run, play, scream, have fun and no one will yell at me. Therefore further crumbling the veracity of this “brave” 9-year-old’s claim, because you can no longer say it is only the toys and cartoon characters drawing kids to these places; nether can you say, whatever the draw, it is causing kids to consume more of their “unhealthy” food even if they come more often.  Because like the above varied habits of adult consumers highlighted by the CEO, parents whose primary goal is a place for their children to run off some energy may buy themselves and their kid a drink, Hi C vs. soda, let the children play awhile and go home.      

Why stop at fast food marketing, why pick only fast food as the target; it is obvious Hannah’s mommy is at the very least training her to be a carbon copy of herself, has put these ideas in her head if not put her up to scolding a CEO in public, so why is it just fast food and McDonald’s specifically? Fast food isn’t the only junk food out there; there are plenty of other sources of unhealthy food that use cartoons, games and toys to get kids to make their parents buy them, kids cereal being another such example. News shows have sounded the alarm on kiddie cereals with virtually no health benefits using bright colors and their own cartoon, popular cartoons like Shrek to get kids’ attention; however it’s been a few years.  In fact it would be far more logical for this young girl to speak out about the cartoons on cereal boxes enticing kids to eat things loaded with sugar, to get the prize inside, because it is not only something she sees more advertisements for on television, since it seems to be less regulated that fast food commercials, elaborate TV spots showcasing the cartoon in an actual storyline plot eventually unveiling a new marsh mellow shape in Lucky charms, toucan Sam’s treasure island putting a story behind a new flavor of Fruit Loop, but something that is reiterated by the boxes she sees in the grocery store vs. McDonald’s she’s probably rarely seen the inside of. Could it be mommy knows such a story would not hold water with people who have seen children beg for the generic brands of said cereals, if for no other reason than to pick the marsh mellow shapes out of the bowl? Could it be this 9 year old has friends who eat those cereals? One last convenient target suspiciously not on the radar of this child or their mother pulling the real strings, candy marketed to kids during Saturday morning cartoons on broadcast television and on cable children’s programing channels like Disney and Cartoon Network 7 day a week which advertise baby bottle pops, ring pops new gummies, fruit roll ups, gushers, Twizzlers using the same formula or showing older kids with more friends, more popular, having more fun with the candy than without. Yet again product marketers are smarter than our pair of speakers, our 9 year old willing to stand up to an adult, because now much of the marketing has gone into cyber space offering online games to be played with parents’ permission; the result kids like Oreo, for instance, because of the online game, they buy the product for codes to play the online game, whether they eat it on not. If the food is in the home, parents are more likely to eat more of it than the child as they become nostalgic for their own childhoods and reminisce over fond memories of summer camp, times with mom or dad; translation in all cases kids aren’t eating as much of this kind of junk food as everyone is sounding the alarm that they are.    

Scrutinizing the accompanying news footage of mother and daughter cooking together, true the focus is on healthy eating, but only focuses on fruits and vegetables; there is little to nothing about healthy grains, healthy meats, dairy which are also part of a healthy, balanced diet particularly for kids. Children unlike adults need to get their Iron supply from mineral rich meat rather than vegetables owing to their bodies being much more capable of metabolizing the meat version. Combing through her available YouTube videos the cooking segments include a fun game called I ate a rainbow complete with song supposedly to get kids excited about eating their fruits and veggies; unfortunately said segments have people making things even I, as an adult, would be skeptical of out of vegetables most of us have never heard of forget know how to prepare. It can be conceded maybe that was the point, to teach people how to make these things appetizing for kids, and kids do love finger foods, but honestly kale and eggplant chips. Additionally misleading is the toddler boy in one video “munching on a kale chip like it was a potato chip;” again honestly how many potato chips has this child eaten in his 2-5 years considering his mommy is a participant in a related type of  video only this time with a food hydrator? Of course he’s going to eat it if he doesn’t know the difference; not disclosed is the last time he ate. He could just as easily be extremely hungry willing to eat whatever is put in front of him; unimpressive taking into account hungry kids will eat almost anything including butter or baking soda out of the container. To be highly doubted is if they would have kept the footage, if it would be one of the highlights of YouTube had he spit it out, cried, called it yucky.

If this parent had any sense she would be a lot smarter about what she was teaching her child; she would get hold of the book by Jessica Seinfeld teaching parents how to hide healthy food in things your children will love to eat or any of the other dozen books teaching that as well as healthy substitutions, apple sauce rather than vegetable oil when making brownies is just one way to cut fat and keep taste, showing her child how to actually cook less calorie family favorites, actually cook using these obscure vegetables where you can’t taste strong flavors like spinach but still get the nutritional benefits. She would advocate via her cooking channel tried and true parent tested methods of getting kids to eat their fruits and vegetables including letting kids play with their food at least as far as making funny faces out of it; banana slices for eyes, carrot noses and grapes for the mouth. Putting a simple slice of cheese over most cooked veggies can entice a kid to eat them; worry about fat and cholesterol can be diminished with low fat, feta and goat cheeses. Children love finger foods so let them dip raw veggies in ranch sauce or fruit into natural or raw honey; only caveat, make sure your child is old enough to process the latter. Worries about calorie and fat content can be mitigated with portion control and utilizing low fat dressing options; using something natural like honey can often replace sugar in most recipes too. Top baked potatoes with low fat yogurt in place of sour cream; to make a simple meal like Hamburger Helper go farther and be healthier add frozen vegetables, diced tomatoes. When fresh veggies and fruits are not an option use frozen or dried options over canned.  These are the practical tips parents need not exotic things to do with vegetables probably too expensive to keep in stock. If this parent was realistic about her kid and kids in general being healthier she would teach moderation over exclusion, choice over deprivation chiefly by showcasing in her videos kids cereals with the most nutritional benefit and the least sugar, the closest to natural, healthiest fruit snack options, premade juice options that don’t require home juicing no one really has time for anyway. She would go into the major fast food restaurants look at the kids’ meals, look at all the menu choices and detail which ones are the healthiest available, which fast food place has the healthiest stuff for kids, the healthiest over all giving people a guide to eating out, most importantly teaching her child how to function in the world, make the best choices out of what’s presented commiserate with her future busy lifestyle. Because the newest data is consistently showing obesity issues in America are not stemming from too much eating out, atrocious amounts of calories consumed from fast food, restaurant favorites, bizarre food combinations and giant burgers, burritos and so on, but from hidden calories, salt, fat and sugar present in the items we purchase out of our grocery stores, too much of the demonized processed food. Staples like bread that contain high fructose corn syrup, juice boxes purported as natural that have more sugar than soda; these are the battles that need to be fought, not telling the public something they already know and choose to ignore by virtue of moderation, worse using a child to do it in hopes of shocking shaming us into going along with ridiculous bans and restrictions to ease to ease one group’s one set of parent’s paranoia.