Tag Archives: junk food

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.

Should You Avoid Food Additives and Coloring?

As a rule, I like to cook from scratch. Mostly because I enjoy it, but also because I like knowing what goes into the foods I feed my family. That’s not to say I don’t allow any packaged foods at all; my husband remains hooked on boxed mac n’ cheese, and so the kids love it too. We also enjoy boxed cereals. But I do what I can to avoid convenience foods and prepared foods.

Frankly, I find obvious food coloring to be pretty gross and unnecessary. We eat so many things that are a very different color from what they would be naturally and have been trained to think that that is how they are supposed to look. Kind of ridiculous when you think about it.

There’s a lot to be said for trying to get away from food coloring. There’s some evidence, after all, that getting certain types of food additives and coloring out of a child’s diet may help with ADHD. Not in all cases, but sometimes there appears to be a connection. If I had a child with ADHD, that is certainly one possibility I would test before using medications.

ADHD isn’t the only problem. As noted in Healthy Child Healthy World , which I reviewed recently, MSG is associated with reactions such as headaches and changes in heart rate. I remember my grandmother being very careful to ask at restaurants about MSG because it gave her so many problems.

I do notice that I feel better when I eat food I made from scratch, and I don’t think that’s just due to liking my own style of cooking. No doubt that’s a part of it, but I firmly believe that there is also something to do with the freshness of the ingredients and lack of preservatives, food colorings and other additives.

I don’t even like to use premade spice blends. Too many of those have too much salt or other ingredients I don’t want.

It doesn’t matter to me that my kids don’t have ADD or ADHD or any other conditions that might be made better by getting additives out of their diets. I don’t need most additives in my food. My kids don’t need them. Neither does my husband, but it doesn’t bother him like it does me. Can’t win all the battles, know what I mean?

Finding Your Kids’ Favorite Healthy Foods

My kids have some interesting favorite foods. Sugar snap peas probably lead the pack. They are perhaps not the greenest thing to buy, as I have no doubt that we’re getting them out of season, etc., but it’s hard to complain when your children are begging for something so good for them.

I’ve met a lot of parents who are quite envious that my kids like such things. Here’s some of how I figure out which healthy foods make great snacks.

1. Start early.

The sooner, the better. Pediatricians debate whether it works or not, but we started our kids on vegetables before fruits when they were babies. All I know is that we started on pureed green beans, and they’re also still a favorite. Grow them in the garden, and my kids will react as though we’re growing candy.

But even if they don’t like such snacks right away, you can work toward the goal of your kids preferring healthy snacks.

2. Stop keeping junk food around the house.

It may take time to cut things down. Good eating habits take time to develop. But it’s absolutely worth it.

Some unhealthy snacks can be switched out for healthy ones very easily. Make smoothies instead of serving fruit juice or sodas, and pour any excess into popsicle molds. There are tons of smoothie recipes out there, from ones that only use fruit to green smoothies.

Others are more challenging. We haven’t entirely given up candy in our household, although it’s mostly bought for holidays now, and eaten at the rate of 1-2 small pieces a day. It takes forever to get rid of even a small quantity that way, but also satisfies the urges.

3. Start a garden.

Kids generally love eating the foods they have harvested themselves from the garden. We teach our kids which plants they can snack freely from, and which they have to ask permission. Cherry tomatoes and other small varieties are a big hit around here. Sugar snap peas are also popular. Green beans fresh off the vine can be another amazing treat.

Our garden has always had a few simple rules. We point out which plants the kids can eat from freely. Others they have to ask, mostly to make sure that the plants aren’t damaged by overenthusiastic harvesting or to be sure everything can ripen before being eaten.

My kids and most of their friends get pretty much hooked on sweet basil most summers. Always good to be sure they know which leaves can be eaten safely. They’re taught down to the specific plant, so that anything that looks similar elsewhere is still off limits.

4. Buy healthy foods.

You would not believe how furious my kids were when apple prices went up too high for me to buy them apples for a time. It was great. Frustrating, but great.

It’s not easy keeping all the healthy foods local or in season, but do what you can. If you slip on this, at least the foods are better for your kids and quite possibly the environment than any processed snack could be.

5. Don’t give up.

It’s frustrating trying to change anyone’s eating habits. It is not going to happen after a single shopping trip. Take it a day at a time and even a food at a time as needed. Try foods raw as well as cooked in different ways. If something isn’t appealing, put it to the side for a time. Something else may work better.

Forcing a change of habit doesn’t generally work nearly as well as steadily making a change. Keep it up and things will work out.