I have been a fierce opponent of any moves to restrict what kinds of foods restaurants can sell. I was infuriated recently when I read a New York Times editorial that basically justified the banning of Happy Meals that is all the rage in parts of California. Whoever wrote this piece must have been feeling guilty about what a crummy parent they were with their kids and what their kids ate.
Banning sliced apples from a kid’s diet?! That’s what they’re doing in my mind by banning Happy Meals. If I take my 5-year-old Grant to McDonald’s for a Happy Meal, he doesn’t like fries; he loves apples and the first thing he does is eat the whole pack. So the people in California are taking away my son’s apples! Of course, with a different parent or a different situation, that kid might be sitting with fries.
It comes down to parental responsibility and judgment. We as parents should decide what we or our kids eat. And for us, as adults, we have more and more ability to make smart decisions, thanks to calorie counts and nutritional labeling requirements. Speaking of California, there’s a new state law in effect where chains have to post calorie counts on their menus or menu boards. So you can make a choice about what you eat.
Going back to McDonald’s example: An Egg McMuffin has 300 calories. (I only know that from the calorie count on the menu board.) On the other hand, if I get a Sausauge McMuffin with egg, that has 450 calories. So I can make that decision as to which one I order; it’s my choice and I’m lovin’ it!
The federal government also has new rules being phased in later this year that will require calorie counts among all chain restaurants across the country. So you can expect to see restaurants with high calorie menus offering healthy choice items. I was in an Italian chain that had 6 different menu items under 500 calories. Those were “special features,” so you know how many calories everything else on the menu must have!
Now the government is also imposing standards on supermarkets, mandating that cuts of meat have nutrition info detailing fat, calories and all the rest. That is the proper role of government in my book: To require that you have the info you need and then let you choose what you consume. It should not be to ban the Happy Meal so my son can’t be upset that he already had that toy that they gave him in the meal!