Here’s the deal: I am a healthy eater, and I want my kids to be, too. To this effort — and despite my youngest’s preference for a carb- and meat-only diet — we’re currently growing two kinds of kale, three kinds of tomatoes, and a rather healthy raspberry plant in our backyard. I make almond milk, fruit, and sneaky spinach smoothies almost daily. I stock my fridge with all the fruits and vegetables my tiny, big-appetite-wielding animals are willing to eat.
My predilection for fiber- and protein-rich foods (OK, and chocolate chip cookies) is why it’s kind of bananas (and not the potassium-filled kind) that I outsource a good portion of my kids’ diet to a far less healthy source: McDonald’s. They eat at the golden arches way more than I’d like to admit, like more than once a week, but certainly not more than three . . . unless we’re on vacation.
I grew up on frequent McDonald’s meals myself — I fully blame my fifth grade chubbiness on those addictive french fries — but somewhere around high school, I recognized the reality of the processed, faux-food-ness that is America’s favorite fast-food chain, and I haven’t eaten anything beyond the occasional soft-serve ice cream cone or desperate airport meal from McDonald’s since. I spent most of my early adulthood living in big cities, where easy, quick, fresh food was seemingly available on every corner, and drive-throughs were a novelty and mostly unnecessary. Who needed Big Macs when you could get a custom salad in less than 10 minutes?
Then I had two children and moved to the suburbs, and the availability and appeal of scoring food for my kids without having to leave my car became more and more alluring. Still, I tried to stick to “healthier” fast-food options, ordering them turkey sandwiches and smoothies from Potbelly or chicken, white milk, and squeez-y applesauce pouches from Chick-fil-A, where the meat inside the nuggets actually looks like chicken.
But, somewhere along the line — inevitably, I guess, though I still blame the grandparents — they were introduced to the seductive combination of fries, a cheeseburger, and a toy, served in a convenient-to-carry cardboard box, that is the Happy Meal. They were instantly hooked, and my goal of raising little quinoa-and-broccoli-lovers went out the window faster than you can say McNuggets.
These days, asking my kids what they want for lunch will almost always result in a scream of “Mickey Donald’s” from my 3-year-old son and my 6-year-old daughter is always thrilled to score a Happy Meal (I mean, what kid doesn’t want a meal that has “happy” in its very name?). They can never decide whether they want McNuggets or a cheeseburger, so they often beg me to buy them both, then eat half of their meals, leaving me with that age-old mom dilemma: do I make myself a healthier lunch or just eat their McDonald’s detritus?
Verdict: cold McDonald’s french fries are inedible, but those nuggets are pretty darn good.
I tell myself that, despite my embarrassment about my kids’ McDonald’s consumption, it’s actually just part of any normal American childhood, and let’s face it, my kale isn’t competing with a free Happy Meal toy anytime soon. For now, I’ll continue to sneak a few carrots on their burger- and fry-filled plates and tell myself I’m feeding them a balanced meal. I’m sure they’ll eat at least one.