My mother tells me that my first full sentence was “Nobody can do it like McDonald’s can.” It was probably 1979, and there was a McDonald’s located prominently on the single road into and out of town. Since the area was home to my mother’s entire family, even after we moved away every visit would involve a drive past the same McDonald’s I had seen since I was a toddler. I loved McDonald’s.
I don’t know how often we would actually stop and eat there, but I was two and I knew the jingle already. It surely wasn’t a rare thing. If there’s one difference I can point to between my own parenting style and that of my parents, it’s that I focus more on food choices than they ever did.
My kids are thin, active, healthy eaters who would like to be unhealthy eaters. They will eat what is in front of them, but they love french fries. I don’t blame them. I love them too. I was like my own kids: skinny. I was skinny all through high school. I was skinny despite eating, basically, junk almost my whole life. Hot dogs, Kraft mac ‘n’ cheese, burgers. My school lunches almost always had a sugar-filled fruit “juice” and a pudding or Hostess snack in addition to a white bread sandwich.
The problem with being skinny throughout all of those behaviours is that I never really learned anything about food until my late 20’s. I didn’t have to: I wasn’t obese, even though I ate garbage, so I had no incentive, once out on my own, to learn anything at all about food. Time and habits will win out, eventually, though, and my food caught up with me. Luckily, I started learning about food before I had kids, so I’ve been aware of the early habits that led to my own troubles later in life. I’m still not an expert, but I think I’m doing okay now.
But, oh, McDonald’s. There you are, shining bright and yellow on the corner, promising nostalgia, convenience, and your perfect french fries…
I let my kids eat fast food. It happens once, or maybe twice, each month. I’m not insane about keeping them out of fast food restaurants, but I don’t want them to have to learn too late what helps them stay healthy, so there’s a limit. I’m also conflicted about whether to limit it because “it’s a treat” or because “it’s terrible, and only for convenience’s sake”. I don’t want them putting McDonald’s on a pedestal, as I clearly did as a kid. But I also don’t think they’ll believe me if I tell them french fries are the devil. How can the devil be so delicious? And if I stop calling fast food a treat, do I also avoid calling cake a treat? Donuts? Candy? What counts as a treat?
I’m going to go eat a bowl of broccoli now.