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Ironically, What I Miss Most About Fast Food Isn’t the Food at All

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Around the corner from my toddler’s Gymboree studio, they opened a drive-thru Starbucks, a first for our area. To be honest, I don’t really love Starbucks, much preferring Peet’s simple frothy delights to any interesting concoctions Starbucks can whip up. But a drive-thru coffee place was a novelty for our hood, and they had balloons out front and there was a gal standing at the drive-thru entrance passing out free samples of coffee cake and donuts. So I made a hard right and we shot right through that drive-in and I ordered myself a grande decaf latte and a child’s hot chocolate for the little one. And then I sat in the parking lot with my drink in hand and relished in the silence, with my toddler happily sipping away in the back seat.

A wave of nostalgia and longing hit me right square in the face as we sat for a glorious 15 minutes in the Starbucks parking lot, and I realized what I’ve been missing the most the past 18 months since we gave up fast food wasn’t the food itself, but the peace and tranquility that comes with the novel convenience of it.

Last year when we began our “clean eating” experiment, we came to an agreement, some more begrudgingly than others, that as a family we would forego all fast food. There were a couple of chains we still agreed to frequent, but they certainly did not make food fast enough to warrant a drive-thru, therefore, any place serving food out of the side of a window, straight into our car, was ditched from our dining-out repertoire. For a long time I missed the specific taste of a Coke straight out of the McDonald’s soda fountain or the yummy and bizarre combination of their crispy french fries dipped into a soft serve. My son still longs for their chicken nuggets. I occasionally still get cravings for Jack in the Box tacos, and my husband wouldn’t mind enjoying an El Pollo Loco quesadilla every now and then. And don’t even get us started on Chik-fil-A.

But as I sat in that Starbucks parking lot, sipping on my latte, what I realized I missed most about all those fast food places we used to frequent back in the day, wasn’t the actual food itself but the utter glee that came from serving my family some “food” in the most convenient way possible. I mean think about it: From the grocery shopping to the clean up, fast food has you covered.

But beyond the convenience of driving up to the window, ordering food, and having it magically delivered right to your car window, all in packaging that can be crumbled up and thrown away without lifting a finger to wash a dish, the peace and happiness quotient is ratcheted up several notches because your kids are strapped in their seats chowing down, while you allow yourself to zone out for a bit. If it’s been a really stressful day and you’re lucky enough to have one of those fancy minivans with a TV screen, you can even pull aside to the parking lot or sit in your driveway at home and let them eat while watching TV. No dinner table fights over who’s sitting where or taunting and poking of siblings in the ribs. Certainly mom and dad doesn’t have to wrangle a slippery toddler who tries to sneak away from the dinner table time and time again without eating a bite, since he’s securely strapped into his three-point harness seat. And probably one of the biggest benefits for parents is that they don’t have to listen to any whiny complaints about not liking the food that’s been prepared, because there’s not a single kid alive who doesn’t like something on the fast food menu. That menu was pretty much made with kids in mind. Oh, and strapped for cash because Junior’s outgrowing his school uniform for a third time this year? No problem, there’s the dollar menu for that.

All these thoughts came rushing back to me as I sat there, now guzzling my latte in slight annoyance. Fast food was for many years my fall-back option as a mom. It wasn’t a regular everyday occurrence for us, but I’ll admit that when it was, man was it a glorious day. No cooking, no cleaning, so cheap, and everyone happy. It’s like a fantasy for the average mom, myself included. And I had taken that all away when I made some silly vow to be all healthy. I was feeling pretty stupid by this point, me sitting up on my moral high horse making promises that my family wasn’t going to eat like that anymore. Meanwhile, the makings of tonight’s dinner, a roast that needed seasoning and a mound of vegetables that needed chopping, waited for me at home.

My nostalgic trip down memory lane came to a quick halt when my toddler, no longer keen on his hot chocolate, decided to toss it in the backseat, spilling it all over the carpet and a bag of groceries. And the pastry sample I thought was coffee cake turned out to be some pseudo-healthy 9-grain bran muffin, which he didn’t care for and threw at the back of my head. Like a scratched record, the peace and tranquility was gone and I was launched back into reality.

Yes, fast food was cheaper than that grass-fed roast waiting to be cooked at home, and yes, the happy meal bought me about 15 minutes of peace and quiet, but eventually, I also remembered why we gave it up. The food always gave my sensitive stomach some serious digestive issues for at least a day or two. One of three kids always, always spilled their food or drink all over the car, usually right after I had it washed. Whining inevitably ensued when a cheap toy broke after five minutes of play, resulting in sibling discourse when said sibling with the broken toy tried to steal the other kid’s toy. Oh, and of course there’s the added calories and creepy ingredients lurking in fast food.

I remembered all this in the short five-minute drive home from the Starbucks parking lot. The grass always appears greener, but in many cases, it isn’t. So despite the convenience and affordability, we’re continuing to stay away from fast food restaurants for now. But if a healthier fast food option ever opens up in my hood, you’ll know where to find me several nights a week.

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

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