May 22 2013

Why My 13-Year Old Hasn’t Eaten at McDonald’s & 5 Better Choices

Happymeal2I don’t really mention it in conversation much but when it comes up people are shocked that my 13-year old has never eaten at McDonald’s.  {never is not a typo}  My two 11-year old sons just ate there for the first time this past year when they got invited by a friend who won a limo ride to the fast food hot spot and invited them as his guests.  How could I say no to a limo ride?  You’d laugh at the fact I had them go online with me to ‘just be aware’ of the ingredients in the food there.  {They ended up choosing chicken salad, water and some ice cream.}

This post isn’t about, “Boy, I’m a better mom than you because my kids haven’t eaten at Mickey D’s!”  Not at all.  Nope.  It’s not about judgment at all.  There’s plenty of parenting decisions we’ve made at the Batten house that would make you go “Huh?  Why are they doing that with their kids exactly?!”

This post is because when it comes to feeding your family healthier it’s just about choices.  A long time ago I chose McDonald’s to represent what I then perceived as all the evil in the food industry.  Fake ingredients that are addictive and deceiving.  Relentless marketing to kids.  Cheap food that makes it easier for people to justify eating it when they are on a tight budget.

And those play structures calling us through the big windows saying, “C’mon in and chill out while your kiddo is entertained and brainwashed.”  Well, I added the brainwashed part. I’m sure McDonald’s wouldn’t admit that.

It stinks that when we want to feed our kids healthier, fast food is so darn prevalent and convenient.  Those golden arches just over the hill can bring such a sigh of relief to any Mama who’s dealing with a screaming preschooler in the backseat or a grumbling teen in the front.  I get that for sure.

I’ve come to believe that McDonald’s isn’t exactly evil and I know they employ people who are caring, kind and make the world a better place every day with their friendly, “Do you want to double-size that?” or whatever it is they ask you now.  But I also know that there’s good research that shows the more fast-food restaurants you have in a geographic location there’s generally a higher rate of obesity and the teens in that area will eat more, well, fast food.

Fast Fake Food = Not Good. But really it comes down to choice.  Personal choice.  Parental choice.  At our house we choose no McDonald’s for our kids.  No drive thrus as a family.

It’s just a choice we made as parents.  We know that eating fast food once in a while isn’t going to hurt our kids.  But it’s a slippery slope.  The ‘train-your-taste buds to need this fake food’ chemicals, the convenience and the cheap prices make it very tempting to swing through those drive-thrus more and more frequently.  And kids don’t really get that.  They just get hooked in.  {And, by the way, I’m not even addressing the argument that McDonald’s has some healthy choices.  If you’re fooling yourself into thinking there’s anything healthy at McDonald’s and willing to argue that point with me or anyone else I’m thinking you have your head stuck in the sand about this issue.  Just sayin’…let’s at least call a spade a spade.  McDonald’s = Not Healthy}

It’s not always an easy choice.  But, the thing is that since it’s not even an option to cruise through the drive-thru after all these years, we just don’t really think about it.  So what do we do instead?

One:  Pack food.  Either Larabars, apples, or full-on Laptop Lunchboxes in coolers.  We pack things like salads, mini-meatloaf muffin cups, wrapped sandwiches, trail mix and homemade cookies.

Two:  Stop at a grocery store.  Yep, we’ve been know to pass up a fast-food place and make a u-turn to run into Meijer or another grocery store to pick up food when we’re on the road and someone’s suddenly so hungry they are going to actually melt-down.  And, yes, often that would be me on the verge of the melt-down.

Three:  Stop at a restaurant like Ruby Tuesdays, Panera Bread or  Chipotle.  Yes, still plenty of Fake food options, but the idea of sitting down at a restaurant like these creates a whole different mindset in my kids’ heads.  They see it as having dinner together at a place where we can make some better choices.  Plus even this is pretty limited for our family.

Four:  Drink water.  Yep.  A lot of times when we are hungry we are actually dehydrated.  Being dehydrated impacts our behavior and mood in a way that isn’t always pretty and it’s amazing how quickly it can turn around with just a glass of water.  I actually wrote about this very topic in my guest blog post at Kidlutions.

Five:  Tough it out.  It’s okay to be a little hungry.  I’ve made the mistake over the years in letting my kids eat too frequently.  It’s a bit of a habit I’m trying to break now, which isn’t always pretty when someone swears they are “not going to make it” if I tell them they have to wait another half hour to eat.  We are designed to eat a good meal filled with Powerful Protein, Friendly Fat and Colorful Carbs and actually make it to the next meal 3-4 hours later.  Our bodies can then use the energy that we’ve stored up in between meals instead of constantly taking in more and more energy from food.

Now, you’re not supposed to beat yourself up for eating at McDonald’s or some other favorite spot.  But I also want you to not mindlessly keep doing it and making excuses for it.  No matter how busy you are.  We have basketball, baseball, lacrosse, horseback riding, youth group and a host of other activities every week.  I know how crazy life with kids gets.

Just remember, packing some apples and slices of turkey is really easy.  A 3-year old can do that.  It doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated.  It just needs a little bit of planning.

And yes, people ask me all the time if I worry my kids will go overboard on fast food as soon as they have the chance.  I don’t worry about it.  I’m not going to feed them foods now that I know are bad for them just so they won’t go crazy on them when they are older.  Each one of my kids will respond differently to our boundaries – whether the boundaries are around food, cigarettes, alcohol or sex – and we are still going to have some boundaries because it’s our job to do our best to keep our kids safe & healthy.

Feed Your Family Healthier.
One. Manageable. Step. At. A. Time.


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