Chick-Fil-A’s latest kids meal promotion actually puts some fun back into kids’ meal toys. Even better, it’s active fun: the chain is offering promotional toys based on the Guiness Book of World Records, and kids can score books, cards or (probably most entertainingly) a timer, all with world records set by people and animals and corresponding challenges for kids. Some challenges are more active than others ( “how many jump-rope skips can you make in 30 seconds?” vs. “how many golf balls can you hold in two hands for 30 seconds?”) but all are more interesting than your average plastic tchotske (especially the ones promoting teen movie Twilight).
But that doesn’t make Chick-Fil-A the patron saint of kids’ meals. As Carolyn pointed out yesterday, plenty of people object to offering any toy with a meal: why reward kids for eating? And particularly not for eating high-calorie, high fat fast-food meals (which, for those of us who like that sort of thing, should really be its own occasional reward). And Chick-Fil-A’s meals themselves don’t necessarily beat out those of other chains in the nutrition department. At 590 calories (and 24 grams of fat) for the larger, full-on kids’ meal of 6 nuggets, fries and a coke, a kid who eats that for lunch plus breakfast, dinner and a couple of snacks is going to need the extra workout that the card suggesting a backyard obstacle race encourages. Does the fact that it’s a better toy make it a better deal?
One thing that’s often missing from this debate, though, is that chains do have healthier offerings. Cut your Chick-Fil-A meal to 4 nugget, replace the fries with a fruit cup and skip the Coke and you have a decent 175 calories (more if you add milk). Drop the Coke–a small sacrifice–and the meal is a fairly respectable 480, although you’re still coming in pretty high on the fat count. Remove your own personal expectations from this, and kids might make choices that surprise you: mine like McDonald’s apple slices, while I think letting a chain cut up an apple, spray it with de-browning chemicals, package it in plastic and charge you extra for it is ridiculous. But if I offer the apple, they usually pool their resources: one chooses fries, another the apple, everybody wins. The obstacle standing between them and a healthier meal turned out to be me.
The activity-promoting promotional toys are a similar effort from a chain to offer a compromise between the kid of food we expect from them as individuals, and the healthier goals we set as a society. The goal, after all, is to get the customer in, and get the customer to come back. This is at least a laudable effort to do that without pandering, as Carolyn put it, to our personal addictions to fat, fat and more fat. In a line of glittering fast food choices, I’d make Chick-Fil-A my stop for that alone.
Except, of course, that the nearest one is at least a hundred miles away.