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Should Happy Meal Toys Be Banned?

I’m not a big fan of the toys that come in children’s meals at fast food restaurants. Actually, I’m not a huge fan of fast food restaurants in general or rather, the really unhealthy food most of them serve. But I don’t think the ban of toys included with Happy Meals and other kids meals that Santa Clara county is enacting is the answer.

I just don’t think making them drop the toys is the answer to the obesity issue that they’re focusing on.

I understand that they will allow restaurants whose kids meals meet certain nutritional guideline to continue to offer the kids toys. Fine, whatever. I’d be much surprised if that changed the menus.

You see, I don’t think the toys are enough of the attraction. This is something I’ve discussed with my daughter, who is about to turn 8.

She tells me that the play areas are an even bigger part of the attraction for her. We talk pretty often about health, eating right and being active, so she knows that fast food isn’t good for her. But those play areas!

I can’t say I blame her for loving them. Many times I’ve wished I could fit in them comfortably. What kid doesn’t love climbing around?

Aside from my rather quiet son, that is.

Of course, no one is going to suggest that they can’t have play areas unless their food is healthy. No one wants to make things even worse by saying that if you want to eat unhealthy food then you can’t be active at the restaurant because play areas aren’t allowed there. That’s just silly.

I do understand that other kids do go just because they want the latest cool toy that is included with their Happy Meal. McDonald’s and other fast food restaurants are great for getting in toys that kids will want for at least 5 minutes after they actually receive them. But I think it’s important to remember that the toys aren’t the only draw.

Besides, fast food places aren’t the only ones serving junk to kids. I found this link to a Cupertino School District lunch menu for April. Looks rather problematic to me. Now who’s promoting unhealthy eating habits?

Parents Need to Step Up

But the simple truth of the matter is that kids can’t get fast food when they’re young without the help of parents. Parents who are often in a rush and just want something quick and easy for lunch or dinner when they take the kids for fast food.

The first thing to do is focus on healthy eating at home. Think about the snacks you provide. Think about what you cook and how often you eat out. These are things you have control over.

I don’t have a problem with eating unhealthy food some of the time. It’s when it’s a constant thing that it becomes a problem. You don’t have to go to a fast food restaurant just because the kids start begging for it.

Schools try to teach kids about healthy eating to a limited degree, but then they mess it up with menus like the one I linked to above. They’re stuck too, with tight budgets for food and the only cheap enough stuff isn’t that good for you.

That’s why parents need to take the time to learn these things themselves. The schools aren’t going to teach enough about healthy eating. You can.

You can start a garden with your kids. Have them help prepare meals. Take them grocery shopping and focus on the fresh foods, not the convenience foods. Find healthy recipes online.

Just work with them on really thinking about their food and what goes into making it healthy.

And don’t forget to send them outside to play every day possible. Food is not the only cause of weight problems.

Don’t Focus on Obesity

My oldest daughter is the only one of my kids who is really aware of the social pressures to not be obese. I’m working hard on teaching her and my son that it’s not about your weight, it’s about healthy habits. I’ve talked to her about people we know who are probably considered obese, but who are probably in better shape than others who are thinner.

It’s hard to give kids a realistic view of weight, healthy eating and fitness when society focuses so much just on obesity. And while obesity is certainly a problem, you can’t tell just by looking at someone if they eat healthy foods and exercise, but happen to have a metabolism that is just at a particular weight.

You can’t tell by looking if someone who is skinny really eats well and exercises or just has one of those really fun metabolisms.

I’d rather teach good habits than teach my kids to obsess over numbers on a scale. It’s hard, when the rest of the world tells them otherwise, but I think that’s a better lesson.

But What About the Toys?

I said it at the start, I’m not so much a fan of the toys. How many kids play with them much at all the next day? I know mine don’t.

My mother decorated her Christmas tree last year with Happy Meal toys she got from her various grandchildren. Probably the best use I’ve seen for them.

But wow, all that plastic!

I don’t favor making laws getting rid of them, whether the reason is environmental or to discourage kids from wanting unhealthy kids meals. I cringe to say that, but it’s true. I don’t think legislating the problem away is a real fix.

Cheap plastic toys, no matter the source, are going to be with a for a while. And while they may attract kids to unhealthy food, it’s up to the parents to say no. I can handle that.

If you want to do your part, convince your kids to reject the toys even if they do get a Happy Meal. Difficult, but they might surprise you sometimes. This is something you can do on your own.

I know the commercials can make this difficult. Kids see the current toy offerings on television and sometimes that inspires them to beg for a trip to Mcdonalds for that toy.

Don’t just say no. Take a moment and discuss why you’re saying no. Point out the many other toys they have if that helps with your kids.

Or just say no, not today. You’re the parent and you can do that.

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