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.