A Happy Meal Ban and Cheese Demons

November 09,2010
Erin Dower( )
A Big Mac on a billboard makes me want a Big Mac. Those commercials with the cute talking cows make me want cheese. Real bad. Fortunately, I'm a nutrition-conscious adult whose brain has been effectively trained to think "gross" and tune out most cravings for fast food and gobs of cheese. (I do indulge every once in a while.) But a lot of kids and adults are living on fast food because it's cheap, easy, filling, and – let's face it – it tastes good. A new study shows that kids may even be up against their own brain size, which can make them predisposed to overeating and therefore, obesity. The trinkets that come with Happy Meals and other kids' fast food meals make healthy choices even harder for families. What 3-year-old doesn't like a burger or nuggets and fries with a side of plastic Shrek? So San Francisco has proposed a ban on Happy Meals and other junky meals that come with a toy unless they meet higher nutrition standards. Now, lots of people are in an uproar. Most of the comments online are something like this: "This isn't the answer." "People are lazy." "Parents are horrible." "We like the occasional Happy Meal." "Government. GRRRRRRRRR." Other than a personal grocery shopper and chef for every fast food addict, I'm not sure of a real solution. What are your thoughts on this proposed ban? It's up for a vote by SF's city officials tonight, so we'll see what happens! I don't think it's a horrible idea to try to squeeze in some fruits and veggies and slash some calories in kids' meals. My fear is that fast-foodie families will continue to go to McDonald's even if there's a Happy Meal ban or a change in what's served in the meal, and parents will just buy their kids adult-size meals – a scary thought considering a Happy Meal provides half the daily calories a 5-year-old needs. And then there's the news of a surge in sales of extra cheesy pizzas and fast foods. People are now eating three times as much cheese as they did in 1970. Even the word makes us happy: Cheeeeese (what we say to smile for pictures). Pizza has always been a staple in economic hard times. I was recently reminded of this when a jobless mom was begging on the subway for money to buy her kids a pizza (because family dinners under $10 can be kinda hard to come by). And now extra cheese, which makes people extra happy, is selling bigtime for Dominos, Taco Bell, and other chains that are piling on loads of it. Should they be stopped? Whatever the solution, I commend all the families – especially those with busy working moms – who still take the time to cook a pretty healthy family meal on most nights. It's a tough job, but it's so worth it.