San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors made a bold move today and placed a ban on toys for children’s fast food meals that do not meet specific nutritional guidelines. Debate over this issue has been a hot topic for the last few days. Some folks are firm believers in this movement and hope it sets precedence for a nationwide ban. Other folks believe the government is too much of a presence in our private lives. Some people want to point the judgmental finger at bad parenting. Parents shouldn’t visit fast food joints, and they are irresponsible when they buy their children video games. Why aren’t those children playing outside?
Opinions and bans do not really address the problem, though. One woman on a local news station suggested that parents will simply purchase adult size portions as the American Family begins the mourning process for the death of the Happy Meal. I am not certain that will be the exact response, but I am fairly certain that the response will not be the one that San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors aimed for. We need to look beyond the Happy Meal to the real source of the problem.
How did we become a Happy Meal society? There was a time when many (if not most) families had a “stay at home mom.” Mom had time to cook nutritious meals for the family. I am sure that we had the occasional fast food fare when I was a youngster, but I do not remember them. I do remember fresh vegetables right out of the garden. I remember piping hot cornbread and the smell of something simmering or stewing on the back burner. I remember fried chicken and smothered pork chops. Oh! I stand corrected. I do have fond memories of the occasional trip to White County with Daddy, where we picked up Kentucky Fried and had a picnic on the farm.
The point is . . . Mothers had time to cook. The 21st century Mama works – sometimes more than one job. She is frequently a single parent and has after school and extracurricular activities for her children AFTER working at least 1 and maybe 2 jobs each day. She doesn’t have TIME to cook, so she pulls into the window at McDonald’s on her way home from the music recital or church event that she attended after working 13 hours and grabs a Happy Meal. Heaven forbid!
What about those accusations that parents should get their children off the couch and outside? The days of sending your children out to play with a cheerful, “be home in time for supper,” are long gone. Our children are not safe anymore, even in our own back yards. It takes less than a minute for a child to disappear. Mom doesn’t have time to cook supper, so you can bet she doesn’t have time to supervise backyard play.
On a positive note, Happy Meal toys do encourage imaginative play. Little Susie can sit in front of a screen and punch buttons without much real thought. Mostly that is reflex or reaction. Playing with little dolls and little cars requires a little brain power, doesn’t it? It is called IMAGINATION!
No one will argue that obesity is not a growing problem (pun intended). It is a social problem, not a parenting problem. The ceremonial Death of the Happy Meal is not going to correct the problem. Mom still has to work 13 hours. Little Susie still has Girl Scouts and study groups after school. Removing the toy will never be an effective deterrent for consuming fast food. It only takes a tiny bit of happiness out of what sometimes is a not so happy life.
I APPLAUDE people who want to fight childhood obesity. I pray they find success. A public stoning of the Happy Meal, though, is not the answer. Let’s roll up our sleeves and find a solution that really addresses the problem!
Off to see the Wizard!