Sunday, May 02, 2010

Food, Toys, and Parental Responsibility

This past week, Santa Clara County (California) supervisors passed a law prohibiting the inclusion of toys in children's meals unless the meal meets certain caloric and sodium guidelines (no more than 485 calories or 600 milligrams of sodium). This is just another step in the ongoing movement to have government take away our choices and our responsibilities.

The most visible target of this ordinance is McDonald's. People see statistics on childhood obesity and want to do something about it. I can understand that. We had so much more physical activity when I was growing up. We had gym class more than once a week (which is how often my teen sons have it). We could join sports without having to make major monetary investments. We walked or biked almost everywhere. We went outside every day. We did yard work. And, yes, we also had McDonald's Happy Meals with toys. The difference there was it was a special occasion to go to McDonald's (or any other restaurant, for that matter). We ate most of our meals at home. Once every two weeks (for us), we would eat out somewhere. Some families ate out once a month, some once a year!

Our lifestyles have changed, and now we are trying to legislate ourselves some easy answers. But there is no "easy answer". Why should we penalize businesses for something that is our own fault? McDonald's (and most other fast-food chains) offer alternatives to the traditional, high-calorie meals. Children can choose (or parents can choose-imagine that, parents actually telling their kids what they will eat instead of having the government choose for them!) chicken nuggets or a hamburger instead of the cheeseburger, apples instead of fries, and juice or milk instead of soda. They still get the prize. And then they can burn off the calories running around the McDonald's Playland. Better yet, they can walk to McDonald's (on their once per two-week excursion).