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Happy Meals: how happy ARE they?

By Robyn Openshaw, MSW | Aug 14, 2009

Both my daughters are playing AAA (state-level) soccer this year, and I’ve driven 45 minutes north of home 4 times in the past 24 hours, for a tournament they’re both playing in.   Today as we watched a game, a team mom I’ve been friends with for many years walked up and started unloading a Wendy’s bag.

I laughed in delight seeing these tiny little cups of milkshakes, about as tall as an adult finger.   All her children and nieces she’d brought with her started to eat the tiny milkshakes.   Not   yet realizing my huge faux pas, I said, “How cute! I didn’t know they made milkshakes so tiny!”

The mothers probably thought they were being subtle.   They looked at each other, kinda smirking.   They were probably hoping I didn’t notice the unmistakable message in the glance they shot at each other.   The glance said: “IS SHE FOR REAL?!”

(Reminds me of when, years ago, I went to Super Saturday, a crafting event put on by my church.   I’d never been before, since I don’t “do” crafts.   I was walking around chatting, and I saw this basket of waxy-looking cylindrical-shaped things and said, “Weird! What are those clear crayons for?!”   I saw that SAME LOOK on the women’s faces, and one of them said, slowly, as if speaking to a very young child, “Robyn, those are GLUE STICKS.”   Right.   For the glue gun.   Something every person with an X chromosome knows.   Except me.)

Back to the story of the very tiny milkshakes. Melissa said (other mothers listening, highly entertained), “Uh, Robyn, these come with kids’ meals.”

I realized that I’d accidentally exposed my family’s ugly little secret: my kids have never eaten a fast-food kids’ meal.   Ever.   No Happy Meal.

Can you be a happy kid, without a Happy Meal?

This is my question for you today.   It’s deep, I know.

I didn’t even realize that my kids were kinda-sorta un-American until I heard the explosive reaction from my 15-year old son’s friends last year as he told them, “I’ve never eaten at McDonald’s.”   They refused to believe him.   I’ve written before on this blog that I’m highly offended at that allegation, since I’ve taken my kids to McDonald’s plenty of times!   (They have the cleanest bathrooms, when you’re on a road trip.)

I’m not saying this to brag or be elitist or separatist.   I’m just saying that if you NEVER GO to a fast-food restaurant to buy a lot of sugar and trans fats and other garbage to spike the kids’ blood sugar and insulin and clog their arteries . . . well, then you never get addicted to that convenience.   It can be done.   Honestly, I’ve just never THOUGHT to buy a Happy Meal.

It’s not that I’ve never failed to plan and been out and had to pinch hit.   It’s just that there really are better options.   Subway, with a veggie sandwich on wheat, for instance (get them to really load it up with extra bell peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers).   I’m sure you have other ideas for when you’re out and about, or you could come up with them if you quit considering “Happy Meals” as an option.

I think my next book is going to be 101 Ideas for Eating Healthy While Traveling.   (I know, it’s not grammatically perfect–Healthy is an adjective and I need an adverb, but Healthily is so awkward. Help me with a better title.)

Anyway, please share with mothers of babies that if you never go the first time, you won’t get addicted to drive-thru convenience.

Posted in: Food Industry, Nutrition, Parenting

15 thoughts on “Happy Meals: how happy ARE they?”

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for this wonderful entry . . . although I felt pretty guilty afterward. We often travel and I have two very demanding little ones. Many times my only goal for the day is to make a healthy recipe and by the time 11:00 PM comes I’m either just starting it or I am too exhausted.

    I would love your 101 Ideas book and I would love to hear ideas from mothers with young kids, on how to prepare for trips when you hardly have time to brush your teeth.

  2. I totally wish that I had never taken my kids to McDonalds for Happy Meals. Especially my 4 year old. Now I’m trying to wean him off of them and it’s not easy! Every time we’re out running errands he wants to stop for chicken nuggets. Ugh!

  3. Anonymous says:

    I really could use some tips NOW for eating healthy while traveling. My family will be taking a road trip soon from Texas to Utah and I have 4 kids under the age of 7 and Dh and I are eating well and don’t want the trip to sabotage our efforts. Any tips thrown our way would be great.

    I have a feeling our choices will be limited because we will be driving through very rural parts of the country.

  4. Anonymous says:

    How about “Eating Well While Traveling”


    ” Clean Eating on the run”

    I would love this help!!

    It sounds like a great idea but my problem is that my children are 6,9, 10 and have been introduced to fast food. I need to figure out how to stop it with out making it a huge ordeal. Any ideas out there?

  5. Anonymous says:

    How about just switching the words to be “healthy eating”

  6. Anonymous says:

    101 Good Eats On The Road

  7. Anonymous says:

    I’ve started describing to my kids (ages 7, 6, 4) what really goes into/on to a McDonalds Happy Meal and surprisingly, they’ve been perfectly happy passing it up. Of course the first question they had was “well, can we go to Wendy’s then?” !!

  8. Anonymous says:

    Fast Foods to Health

    Fast Foods for Health

    Healthy Foods on the Run

    Traveling Health Foods

    Travel to Health

    Healthy Traveling

    Healthy Eating While You’re Away

    Nutrition on the Run

  9. Anonymous says:

    I got so carried away with that new book title that I forgot to say, “Thank goodness those were “tiny” milkshakes and not the 64 ouncers! lol

  10. Anonymous says:

    Congrats on finding happiness without happy meals! I wish I’d known about raw foods, green smoothies and more when my boys were young but I only recently discovered all of this, but better late than never! Thank you Robyn for sharing all your research and experience!

    After reading about the wonders of the green smoothie I’m really anxious to get started but I have a few questions before I buy…

    I have exactly one week to pass this knowledge on to my son who’s headed to college, can I buy the 12 step program and get all the steps up front vs. waiting for a new one each month?

    Does the program include menus and grocery shopping lists that incorporate the recipes?

    Also, I’m hopeless in the kitchen, will the program provide recipes with exact amounts and concise ingredient lists vs. experimentation to create your own combinations and ratios? I really need everything spelled out!

    Thanks for any help anyone can give!


  11. Anonymous says:


  12. Anonymous says:

    I am a 60 yr old ‘retired’ mother having raised 4 healthly children(now35,34,27&21) without fast food,ever! We traveled a lot when the kids were young and I always took food with us from home. Fresh cabbage, carrots and cukes were always in the cooler. Tahini&miso spread for protein and sandwichs. When flying I always had to take one suitcase full of food. This choice of eating is based on one idea, as far as I am concerned-keep it simple and fresh! My husband & I just returned from a 3 day trip with food that we took from our garden and Co-op. It takes thinking differently. My now grown children are now raising my grandchildren in the same manner. It is so much easier to travel and eat well as most grocery stores carry organic fresh ingredients, not so 30 years ago. Please take the initative and do what is right for yourself and your children.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Not as good at Subway, but if you have a really tight budget you can get a (white) sesame bun at Jack in the Box loaded with veggies for $0.40. Now if we can just get them to carry whole-wheat buns…

  14. Anonymous says:

    So, what do you do about eating with relatives and loved ones who are not green whatsoever? When they want to treat “out to eat” get togethers, how do you go about handling that without looking like a total snob and that nothing is ever good enough? In addition, we just moved to place that is way way way behind on the band wagon of healthfully mindful eating. Moving from Austin, the options were very plentiful for eating right. Red meat and BBQ are huge here, as well as donuts every sunday morning at church. Melding personal diet standards with a society that has sub-par is a struggle, especially while mothering two toddlers and another on the way. Convenience is SO convenient!!

  15. Anonymous says:

    Love your post. I’m happy to say my 3 yr old thinks McDonalds is a playground 🙂 We are always looking for tips for traveling and eating healthy – you should definitely write a book.

    One thing we do when traveling is to stop by Trader Joes if we’ve taken a plane and don’t want to transport a suitcase of food (we have done that).

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