Monday, September 21, 2009

Fun Food

When my kids eat good food around the kitchen table at home, they don't just avoid the 590 calories, 26 grams of fat, and 710 grams of sodium found in my daughter's Happy Meal of choice (4 piece chicken nuggets, small fries, and chocolate milk), they also avoid this.

I go out of my way to not buy items of clothing that turn me or my kids into free billboards. I detest logos and brand names emblazoned across t-shirts... as if associating myself with a particular brand will somehow enhance my identity. By the same token, I try to be actively engaged with the marketing messages my kids are receiving. I'm not so naive as to think that I can completely censor these messages from, for example, my four-year-old's world. Despite not watching commercial television, she is still bombarded with advertising. At the bookstore, where the licensed-character-related books are prominently displayed. At the grocery store, where you can choose from a seemingly infinite variety of colorful high-fructose-corn-syrup-centered "snacks," again emblazoned with every licensed character imaginable. At Toys R Us, where the aisles are color-coded to help her find her way to the pink plastic "glam!" toys, and steer away from the obviously boys-only building toys.

Alright, that's a whole rant in and of itself, but back to the Happy Meal. What's so wrong with it? Not just its nutritional profile, not just the means of production that allow them to sell those hamburgers and chicken nuggets so cheap. It's also the passive acceptance of corporate marketing as part of the "fun" of the meal. Watch any family at McDonald's, and if the kids aren't examining the pretty box it came in, they're at least playing with the toy. Which is designed, 100% of the time, to sell them something. It's a commercial disguised as a toy.

After lots of discussions and patient explanations -- and not a few tears shed along the way -- my four-year-old now understands that those colorful boxes in the grocery store with the pretty ponies on them are not actually good for her. "That's a trick!" she'll say. "They put those pictures on there so I'll want it, but they're just tricking me because it's not even food!" She understands the game well enough to be angry about it, which I think is appropriate.

But she's still a sucker for those Happy Meals. Which is why the vast majority of the time, you'll find us at the kitchen table instead of under the golden arches. I may not have a cheap plastic toy to go with her lunch, but I can make a pretty cute bunny egg.

In the fight against the lure of cleverly-marketed bad food, I arm myself with bento. Hey, it's a start.

[My favorite bento resources on the web are Lunch in a Box, and searching for "bento" on flickr. So much inspiration! So much fun with healthy food!]


  1. We've never taken the kids to a fast food burger place, and never will. Food is hoorible, and as you said so is the marketing. I also refuse on environmental reasons--the waste and mass produced food are so bad, and unnecessary for the world.

  2. Up until Tuesday, we had avoided fast food for my son. He spilled his lunch at K that day, so the daycare director kindly went out and bought him "the M place" as the other kids called it! My son was afraid to tell me and didn't even keep the toy. I told him it was ok for once, since Miss Karen was just being kind he did the right thing to eat it. He said it was "ok" but hasn't mentioned it since! I'm glad. As a kid I certainly ate that food, but I guess now we're much wiser. I also reject the commercialism and indoctrination with brands and characters. Reject the evil clown! ;)