Home It's All Mental Me vs. The McMachine: On McDonalds… And My Daughter

Me vs. The McMachine: On McDonalds… And My Daughter

by Erika Nicole Kendall

You know… a while back, I watched a documentary on obesity – titled Killer at Large – that showed a brief highlight of one parent’s quest to change how companies market their products to children. It was brief snippet of two women bickering a bit about how “this marketing means I have to have a fight with my children about why they can’t have the happy meal” and the other woman said something to the effect of “well, then that’s what you have to do.”

Let me backtrack.

Bowing to pressure from health advocates and parents, McDonald’s is putting the Happy Meal on a diet.

The company announced Tuesday that it would more than halve the amount of French fries and add fruit to its popular children’s meal in an effort to reduce the overall calorie count by 20 percent.

But McDonald’s appeasement only went so far. A toy will still come with each Happy Meal despite criticism that the trinkets, often with tie-ins to movies like “Toy Story,” foster a powerful connection between children and the often calorie-laden meals.

While Happy Meals account for less than 10 percent of all McDonald’s sales, the signature box and its contents — first introduced in 1979 — have become a favorite target in recent years. Lawmakers and consumers have rallied around breaking that childhood link between toys and fast food, with the efforts increasing as Michelle Obama and national public health officials point to the estimated 17 percent rate of obesity among the nation’s youths.

San Francisco, for example, has banned the inclusion of toys in children’s meals unless certain nutritional requirements are met. A New York City councilman is proposing a similar law. [source]

I suppose this move is meant to give kids – like mine – a bargaining chip when it comes time to beg Mommy for a happy meal… especially if I were to retort “It’s not healthy!” “But Mooooooooooommom, it has apples!”

The other day, my daughter asked me why I give her apples all the time, and I told her “because they make you big and strong!” This answer was apparently sufficient, because she promptly flexed her little toddler arm and asked me to touch her muscle.

What I didn’t expect, however, was for her to run up to my desk, tap me and ask me for a “danimino,” whatever that is, telling me that it would make her grow up healthy and strong. It was at this point where I understood what the mom in the conversation I mentioned above was referring to: marketing that intends to undermine my parenting, so that they can sell a profit.

Considering what I blog about each day – awareness, personal responsibility, conscious consumerism – I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that, because of what I know, I’m conflicted here.

In response to my daughter talking to me about whatever a “danimino” is, I told her “No, baby, you know what makes you big and strong? Those fruits and vegetables in the fridge – you know, the tomatoes, avocados, broccoli, apples, oranges – those make you grow!” And, much like an after-school special commercial, she replied “Yeah, Mom! I like vegetables!” while giving me a high-five.

Ahhh, they’re so awesome when they’re four years old.

Now, while it was easy to manage the situation that one time, I wonder what our relationship would be like if I had to duke it out with her every single day over something she saw in a commercial. What will it be like years down the road? “No, eating happy meals won’t make you float into outer space.” and “No, trix aren’t for kids.” will surely turn into “GET THE HELL OUT OF MY ROOM AND STOP ASKING ME FOR LUCKY CHARMS AT FIVE IN THE MORNING LIKE YOU HAVE A JOB TO GO TO!” before too long.

Not seriously, of course… but seriously.

I’m also aware of the fact that everything you teach your child is in competition with everything every other parent has taught every other child that comes in contact with my daughter. What I teach my child is in direct competition with everything she sees in the world and, like any other issue in regards to parenting, I just have to hope that she trusts my message more. But will she? If I tell her that we don’t drink soft drinks in the house because it’s unhealthy, how can I compete with the vending machine next to the nurse’s office in her school? So if a parent thinks that “twinkies are okay in moderation,” how do I, as a parent, compete with a philosophy that presents immediate gratification? How many times can “that’s not true, listen to me instead” work on an adolescent/teenager before it turns into an all-out war?

What I’m leading up to… is the concept of limiting marketing to children. The idea that there should be some kind of limitation on how companies market to children is peculiar to me. What makes us think that a company, with billions on the line, wouldn’t find new ways to target our children? “Oh, we can’t market on TV in commercials anymore? Who’s the newest little teen sensation? Call up their agent and see if we can get them to drink/eat our product in their next video. What are the kids doing now? Chuck. E. Cheese? Go get our posters up on the walls there. Go find a school that needs revenue and ask them to put our flyers up in their hallways.”

You can only limit a company so much before they can sue for infringing on their first amendment rights. We can only chase them into behaving properly for so long. I mean, kudos to McDonalds for offering healthier options for children – particularly because, in some areas, McDonalds might be all they have – but they’re a company with profits to make… and they’re always going to be expected to do what’s best for them. In the end, this still places the onus onto the parents to wade through the marketing to handle their children.

How does this tie into Mickey D’s? Their press release included the following: “In 2012, McDonald’s will also raise nutrition awareness among children and parents through national marketing initiatives. The company will promote nutrition and/or active lifestyle messages in 100 percent of its national kids’ communications, including merchandising, advertising, digital and the Happy Meal packaging.” This is their prime opportunity to educate you – and your child – on how to eat… coincidentally before the FDA can agree that it’s time to start regulating them. They have to make this venture profitable somehow, and if it means painting “healthy eating” as “a McDonalds specialty,” then so be it.

In the end, I have very little hope for any sensible restraints ever being placed on marketing… so I’ll continue to champion the cause for avocadoes, tomatoes and broccoli for the little one until she gets old enough to get a job and buy her own crap food with her own money. Maybe, by then, my own little marketing ploy of “it’s better for you” will have sunk in.

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Latoya August 1, 2011 - 10:34 AM

The amount of junk food that children eat is amazing. I am an educator and I see this firsthand. Some of them come to school with huge bags of chips or multiple snacks, such as Little Debbie Cakes, chips, juices, and candy. I’m not their parent, but if they had multiples, I would surely step in and tell them that they couldn’t eat them all. Typically if they ate multiple snacks, they would be vomiting within the next hour. Even some of the lunches that they would bring to school would be fat and sugar filled. I wish parents would reevaluate what they are feeding their babies. Those awful snacks and lunches only create classroom zombies.

nkh August 1, 2011 - 11:25 AM

I have been struggling in this area, I must admit. Grandma (my husbands mom) is a firm believer in giving my daughter sugar, and junk food, and this has been a struggle for me constantly having disagreements with her. This side of the family believes in the “it was good enough for us growing up” theory. They also say things like, I am “uppity” for not giving the little one junk. It has been a struggle.

Great points were made in this post. As parents, there are so many challenges in protecting our children. I continue to do what I feel is right in providing healthy and nutritious food for my daughter. I don’t give a damn what anyone thinks, with love of course. lol.

Tracie Gilbert August 1, 2011 - 12:18 PM

I have a little girl that I mentor, so I’ve actually run into this quite a bit. I’m sure it’s easier to do this as someone who’s not her mother, but I tell her the truth–that McDonald’s and most of these companies are lying when they say they help you grow up healthy. Now, it just so happens that she’s 12, which is right at that age where adolescent development begins, increasing her ability to think critically about what’s happening around her; but with that said, if she were younger and was precocious enough to push that boundary of inquiry further I’d probably tell her the same thing.

Kaycee August 1, 2011 - 12:35 PM

So what exactly is a “danimino”? lol

Erika Nicole Kendall August 1, 2011 - 12:38 PM

Not a single idea. ROFL

Amanda August 1, 2011 - 1:59 PM

Danonino is a kind of kids’ yogurt that gets pronounced kinda funny by the kids, lol. My three year old daughter loves their jingle too :”Dan-dan-dan-Danonino!” Thank God the kids cereal commercials don’t seem to be impressing her too much. Yet.

Kaycee August 1, 2011 - 3:07 PM

Thanks Amanda!

Gloria August 1, 2011 - 5:14 PM

Actually, I’m pretty sure it’s “Danimals” that she’s thinking of. At least that, along with “Gogurt” and “Trix Yogurt,” used to be one the snacks marketed in all of the commercials when I was twelve or so. It’s been a while since I have watched the Disney Channel or Nickelodeon, but I still see Danimals in the dairy section at the grocery store, so I imagine that they are still being advertised on all of the kiddie channels.

Gloria August 1, 2011 - 5:17 PM

Whoops, nevermind. I just looked up “Danonino,” and it is apperently the kid’s yogurt that Yoplait is marketing. Who knew there were so many sugary kids yogurts out there????

Amanda August 1, 2011 - 6:15 PM

I forgot about Danimals! Wow. There *are* a lot of kids yogurts. Every cartoon character needs their own yogurt now too I’ve noticed.

GoldenLadyP August 1, 2011 - 3:27 PM

McDonalds (& fast food in general) has been a battleground between my mother, grandmother and my child’s father & fam since he was 7-8 months old (he’s 2.5 now) and i had a fit about the first french fry they handed him (GRRR!)

They do it to show “love”, win favor and they do it to piss me off for isht&giggles i believe*

*i proclaimed while pregnant that he would have a largely organic and local foods diet -they all ctfu like i was Dave Chappelle or something >:( * He did eat a 95% organic diet for the first 12 months of his life outside of the crap his father likely fed him on the low-low.

as a single mom, i win the war and keep my sanity by imposing moderation (in my house) and modeling the behavior i want for him. My child loves water because i jump up from the living room chair and say “Boy im thirsty! I’m getting some water! you want some? he’ll usually say “YEA I want water! and we drink it and go “AHHH!” together. Now does that mean he doesn’t drink sugary juices and chocolate milk nope but he enjoys them in moderation (in my house)

At grandma’s i bring a lot of his snacks and drinks. i don’t act like a drill sargent mom ALL the time but sometimes i do put my foot down and say he’s doesn’t need any fast food/juice/sweets today maybe next time. She does try to haul off to fuss & grumble about how she gave it to me “YOU LOVED HAPPY MEALS & CANDY & PORK AND NOW YOU WANNA ACT BRAND NEW!” but I remind her 1) And yes thanks for reminding me. It’s taken me nearly 30 years, 100 pounds and year’s worth of therapy to recognize my emotional eating and take my life back *eye rolling* and 2) I remind her of her and the rest of our family’s present health challenges (gout, diabetes, high blood pressure etc.) and ask her does she want her grandson to suffer that same way? oh yes uh huh i go for the JUGULAR and that usually quiets the fussing and she changes the subject.

I also go so far as to limit other stuff unhealthy for him like nitrates/nitrites in processed meats (he LOVES hotdogs). I just recently stopped using the microwave to prepare food and have even thought of limiting his dairy now that i’ve educated myself about it some more.

Bottom line we love getting outside to play, we swim at our local pool, we dance to Yo Gabba Gabba and his other DVDs when we actually watch TV which is also limited. I have to trust and believe that the lifestyle he sees Mommy exhibiting is the one that he’s going to resonate best with and if not at least in MY HOUSE we’re not having all that mess! Cartoons/Commercials be damned!

TheBrownBabe August 1, 2011 - 4:38 PM

Interestingly enough, my organization (early childhood education policy) recently worked with woman that helped start an organization to address this very same issue – Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood: http://www.commercialfreechildhood.org/.

This organization’s mission is to limit/prevent the very marketing to children that you are talking about here, with regard to food and various other matters. Before hearing her speak about their work, I had NO IDEA how prevalent, and potentially harmful this could be. They have actually had some success advocating on behalf of children in these matters – and they have no qualms with tackling the “big guys” like McDonalds.

It may be worth checking them out!

Karen August 21, 2011 - 3:12 PM

As a high school teacher, I see all the crap the kids bring to school. Many of them drive themselves and part of their morning routine is a fast food breakfast and a stop at the nearest store to load up on junk for the day. No wonder many of them can’t function or learn! Our district is making an effort to serve healthy lunches (whole grains, fresh fruit, baked not fried foods) but many of the kids reject it. There are parents who actually bring their kids Wendy’s or McDonald’s because the kid called them, saying they hated what the cafeteria had for lunch! Enabling much????

Matthew June 13, 2012 - 8:31 PM

I am a white man, and I find the issue with McDonalds and the black community rather interesting. On one side, McDonalds sometimes gets criticized for its prevalence in the black community, but I think this criticism is relatively weak.

My cynicism leads me to believe that McDonalds has pretty much bought off influential blacks. First, McDonalds seems to aggressively target blacks. Why does McDonalds sponsor a GospelFest every year? Why does McDonalds have its own website specifically targeting black consumers? Why does McDonalds regularly feature blacks in commercials, and advertises its support black owned businesses that work with McDonalds?

Now McDonalds has a black CEO, so I am curious to see if this health conversation regarding McDonalds in the black community will ever really get off the ground.

Erika Nicole Kendall June 14, 2012 - 8:40 AM

That’s… not what this post was about. At all.

tabitha August 21, 2012 - 10:24 PM

this is often tricky with lots of families, particularly with fighting the grandparents. to be honest, i’m a total nazi bitch on this front. i explained early on that they would NOT feed my child anything without my consent. she tells so i WILL know. my MIL tries and often means well but she doesn’t understand that everythign that says ‘natural’ on the package is anything but. whenever she visits them or stays overnight, i pack a full cooler of food that i’ve cooked myself and snacks. this way there is no excuse for giving her crap. it’s a LOT of work for me to prepare for an overnight or weekend stay but it’s worth it to me. i’ve caved on the occasional french fries or lemonade since we don’t EVER eat those things at home. we drink filtered water, soy milk or juice i make at home. that’s my limit though. i was very clear that i was serious about them sticking to this and quite simply, grandparenting privileges can be revoked if you can’t honor my parenting choices. i know they think i’m uppity and harsh but i don’t give a damn. i’ve spent my entire adult life trying to unlearn bad habits. i want her to have a strong healthy base so even if she deviates from it, she has the foundation.

as for advertising, we haven’t had cable in 8 years and a tv in 2. that doesn’t mean we don’t watch tv. we’re downloaders and netflixers and i prefer it that way. my daughter never sees a single commercial in our house and i can regulate everything she watches (she’s 4). i even deleted netflix from the ipad when she started changing the cartoons i gave her. i’m very protective about what she’s exposed to and when. i know it seems drastic, but it cuts down on the amount of work i need to do to keep those sort of messages from her.

now, she has a really clear understanding of ‘healthy food.’ honestly- her ideas are more than i could have ever hoped for at her age. we eat a vegan diet and even though my husband has backslid into the worst kind of fast food habits, she’s always lecturing him. i’ve tried to stop her from lecturing others (she recently started school and can’t understand why her classmates would want to drink cow milk. ‘it STINKS mommy and it’s not healthy! i don’t want to eat near them!’…. she might be a bit of a food snob) but i’m always happy that she chooses the best for herself. she regulates her sugar intake as well (we have specialty donuts at our weekly neighborhood farmers market and she will tell me after if i try to purchase another sweet ‘mommy, we can’t have more sugar. we need to eat healthy now.’ ). i’m super proud of her. all that to say, giving your daughter a strong base is worth it. when the time comes, she’ll remember.

my daughter motivates me. i’m struggling to lose the weight that i gained before and during my pregnancy and with my second daughter. to motivate myself, i ask- would i approve of Asha eating this way? even vegans can be fat (i’m proof) if they eat poorly (i used to have a vegan cookie business… i ate a LOT of cookies… and pasta…. and potatoes). i have to do better for her. setting the example is so important to me.

Dee Lyn December 29, 2012 - 2:21 AM

McDonald’s apple slices are peeled and have no real nutritional value. They only have carbs, calories, and sugars. I still think that the Happy Meal is garbage…

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