It Was the Play Place, Not the Food!

As a mom of three kids, now grown, I’ve been through just about all there is to experience at McDonald’s. In light of McDonald’s July 26, 2011 announcement stating their commitment to offer improved nutrition choices in their Happy Meal, I wanted to share my story.

Golden Arches
Golden Arches / Svadilfari / CC BY 2.0

My kids grew up in a small town in New England and, like many small towns around the country, we had what came to be called a Hamburger Highway. This is one of the main roads along which many fast food restaurants are assembled, situated next to strip malls where busy families shop and run errands. While driving along Hamburger Highway, propped up in car seats, what did my kids begin to notice at an early age? McDonald’s has a Play Place! A large colorful glass enclosed play area that is a visual beacon to a child stuck riding in mom’s mini-van. The chants began as early as they could talk, “play place, play place, play place!” Thinking that I could stop and give the girls a chance to play and get some lunch, I would occasionally give in to their demand.

When it was time to order, the “choices” I gave my children were the entrée in the Happy Meal and the toy. Soda was never offered as an option for their drink. Instead they could have a carton of milk, a small orange drink or milk shake. Mind you, this is close to twenty years ago now. I knew there was most likely just as much sugar or more in the orange drink or milk shake, but first of all those beverage choices were not soda and secondly they had some nutritional benefit (see today’s nutritional information below). At the time, there was no fruit available and the French fries were a small kid’s portion in a white paper container. What I soon began to notice was that my children were not too interested in the food. I couldn’t get them to sit still and eat, instead they wanted to run around and play with the other children at the play place. Of the three McDonald’s locations in our small town, the play place was indoors at one, an outdoors playground at another and non-existent at the third.

Aside from beverage choices, I was not overly concerned about what my children ate at McDonald’s since (1) I knew that an overwhelming majority of my children’s meals were made up of nutritious foods and beverages from home, (2) our family did not eat fast food very often and (3) my children were active and healthy.

What I think is the most fascinating outcome of my story is that between the ages of seven and ten, my girls told me that they did not really like the food at McDonald’s and asked if we could stop going there. What had attracted them all those years ago was simply the opportunity to play.

Nutritional Comparison of Selected McDonald’s Beverage Items

About our Nutrition Expert

Lori Kaley MS, RD, LD, MSB is a member of the Guiding Stars Scientific Advisory Panel. Lori has 30 years of combined experience working in healthcare and public health creating policies and environments to help families and children have access to healthy foods and beverages. She is currently Policy Associate at the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service.

Lori’s greatest achievement and joy has been in raising her three daughters to be healthy and productive young adults, each with their own particular love of food, cooking and being physically active. Lori’s passion for nutritional community outreach has been a cornerstone of the Guiding Stars Scientific Advisory Panel. Lori regularly contributes to the Guiding Stars blog.