Having raised three children, I've bought my share of Happy Meals, Kids Meals, and whatever other kind of meal fast food places serve with a toy on the side. So, as the mother of three non-obese young adults, I can say with some authority that miniature Cabbage Patch Kids and Hot Wheels cars do not cause obesity.
But that's not stopping a California mother and The Center for Science in the Public Interest from suing the McDonald's Corp. in an attempt to stop them from using toys to market Happy Meals.
According to the Associated Press, the mother and the organization "claim McDonald's decision to market its meals directly to young children violates several consumer protection laws because it exploits a child's vulnerability."
Wait now. Since when do young children have their own disposable income and the ability to cruise over to a drive-up window and place an order?
If children are consuming too much fat- and sodium-laden food they aren't buying it themselves, and the fast food industry isn't delivering it to them. Ultimately, the responsibility for how many McNuggets a child consumes rests on the folks holding the cash and car keys: the parents.
We parents are the ones in charge, remember? The parent-child relationship is a benevolent dictatorship. "Benevolent" meaning parents treasure, nurture and protect their children. "Dictatorship" meaning parents lay down the law when it comes to proper behavior, proper hygiene and, yes, proper nutrition. You can't force spinach down a child's throat, but you certainly can make fruits and vegetables mandatory dietary requirements.
Children need to know - want to know - that parents are the bosses of them. Yes, it's nerve-fraying to listen to your child whine, or watch them do that weepy, slow, chair-to-floor slide in protest over being served baby carrots rather than French fries.
Tough. He'll live. He'll even grudgingly nibble a carrot or two, especially if you promote nutritious food as fun rather than medicinal. I used to tell my kids that broccoli was trees and they were the tree-eating giants. And carrots will go down smoothly if you tell your child she's a bunny or a pony and this is her treat.
Happy Meals aren't death in a bag. They're meant as occasional fun fare, not a routine item on the dinner dinner menu. Parents who plead too tired or too busy to prepare nutritious meals should investigate the wonders of the vegetable steamer and the Crock Pot. Much cheaper, much healthier, and not too labor intensive or time consuming. The rugrats may rebel against the cuisine change, but they're kids; that's their job. Our job is to ensure their good health, which means sometimes saying no to the golden arches and yes to salads.
Learning to do what you must rather than always doing what you want is vital to becoming a successful, productive human being. Life is chock full of "Eat your broccoli" moments. Learning to digest them with a smile rather than a petulant scowl is what separates the adults from the spoiled brats. And as parents, it's our duty to teach that lesson.
Children will always choose a burger and a toy over green beans served at the dining room table. Yes, children are vulnerable to marketing tactics.
That's why they have parents.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Deb Pascoe is a Marquette resident, mother of three and full-time editorial assistant in The Mining Journal newsroom. Her bi-weekly columns focus on her observations on life and family. She can be reached by phone at 228-2500, ext. 240, or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog online at www.singlesobermom.blogspot. com.