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Fast Food. Is it ever okay to feed it to your kids?
I say yes.
Let me explain.
By answering ‘yes’ to the question above, I am not for one second suggesting that it is great (for kids, or anyone) to eat fast food. I’m not saying that I think fast food meals are something that should be eaten regularly and I am not saying that if you don’t eat them or feed them to your kids you are missing out. What I am saying is, in my opinion, and in my experience as a Mum, there are times when kids can eat fast food and no one needs to be shot over it.
Growing up, my grandparents used to be the ones who took us to the movies. Not often. Maybe two or three times a year. But generally when we went, it was with them. And whenever we would go to the movies, we would eat McDonald’s.
For me that meant a fish burger with small fries and for my siblings it was always a cheeseburger with fries as well. Those ‘movie dates’ make up some of my favourite memories as a kid. I remember the details well. I remember how excited my Nan was to get her McDonald’s coffee and Quarter Pounder and I remember how it all felt like a special treat.
If you dissect what we ate on those occasions, yes, I agree, it was not really ideal as far as the food pyramid goes, but in my opinion, my fond memories greatly override any negative effects that those few-times-a-year meals had on my body. And while I also have very lovely memories of healthy home-cooked meals that I ate at my grandparents house, the movies and Macca’s ones have not killed me and are special in their own way.
I think it’s important to emphasise again, this happened two or three times a year.
When my little girl was about eighteen months old, my husband and I took her on an impromptu road trip. We woke up one day, jumped in the car and just drove. I am normally really organised when it comes to things like snacks and meals on road trips, but this time I just wasn’t.
After driving for a while we stopped off in a small town, checked out a couple of antique stores, browsed a bookshop, grabbed some sandwiches from the local café and got back in the car to head home.
As soon as we entered the car, I handed my daughter a sandwich, (grated carrot, chicken and cheese, which she normally loved) and she refused it. She started screaming and going a bit crazy. I knew she was hungry, I was nine months pregnant at the time and, putting it mildly, didn’t really have the patience or strength to deal with the meltdown. Now wasn’t the time for me to hold firm to my normal rule of “eat it or get nothing.” Then I saw it, a drive-through fast food restaurant.
“STOOOOOOOOOP!” I yelled out. “There, there! Quick! Drive-through!” So hubby, who really doesn’t enjoy fast food himself at the best of times, let alone for the kids, swerved into where I had directed him. The next thing we knew, our little girl was in the back seat smiling and chomping down on a chicken wrap and hot chips.
I hadn’t actually thought about that incident until I sat down to write this post. But now, thinking about it, that was her first and last fast food experience.
She’s now three and a half. Of course I am not displeased about this. Of course I don’t think it is awesome to ensure your child has regular fast food meals. That said, it’s not like I made a conscious decision that she was never allowed to have it again, but the situation to give it to her, or for her to be fed it, just hasn’t come up. I guess I also have chosen not to seek it out.
The thing is though, she’s had store bought fish and chips several times (mostly grilled fish, which is of course fine), we’ve had food from our local chicken shop on occasion as well, and on top of this, she has definitely eaten packaged food containing some not so great ingredients.
In addition, like most other kids we know, she has certainly had her fair share of coloured icing on cupcakes at birthday parties. So even though these things aren’t called ‘fast food’ they would certainly be classified as ‘junk food,’ and I guess as far as what this post is about, that’s the same thing. And she’s had it. Not regularly, in fact, overall, pretty infrequently, but she’s definitely had it.
But let’s go back to the “eating it out of necessity on a road trip” situation. There are so many other, often unavoidable, scenarios where kids these days come up against it. And while I am not suggesting that they have it at all of these situations, most kids come across junk or fast food more times than we would probably like.
For example; dinner at a friends house, the school canteen, lolly bags, birthday parties, outings with babysitters and grandparents, and even then if you think you’ve got it under control you go to your local café to get a skim cap and they offer your kids a marshmallow! My point is I guess, that we need to be aware of all of these situations so we can make conscious decisions about when and where they do eat it, if ever. At the end of the day, as parents and guardians, it’s in our control, not theirs.
Like most of my philosophies on parenting, (and let me say it straight up, I don’t always practice what I preach) I do believe it is wise to have standards and rules that you aspire to, and most of the time stick to.
I also try to be realistic when it comes to junk foods. They’re not called junk foods for no reason. But I really do think that by making them something a child “can never ever EVER” have you are more likely to create a greater desire for them than may naturally be there.
The kid on the table scoffing a billion lollies at a birthday party, as opposed to having his or her face painted, is often (not always, but often) the one who is forbidden from ever having it at all.
From everything that’s been in the media over the past decade, I’m totally aware, like I am sure you are, that lots of Aussies are eating much more junk than they should be, and giving more than they should to their kids, and this I think is a serious problem. I don’t put this issue in the same category as kids who have fast food with their grandparents every couple of months, but I think the latter is rarer these days. I’ve also read about links to adult obesity and food addiction later in life as a result of a poor diet when you are younger, so really, the warnings are there for all of us to pay proper attention to.
I thought it might be a good idea to get a pro to weigh-in (pardon the pun) on this topic, so I spoke with Dr Naras Lapsys, well-known, accredited practising dietitian/nutritionist from The Body Doctor and he said:
As a parent of 2 young children and being a dietitian, I have quite strong thoughts on healthy eating and food in general. I certainly encourage my children to eat in a healthy manner and I try my best to set a good example in our home. We eat home prepared meals most nights, the majority of between-meal snacks are healthy and I ensure that the snacking doesn’t interrupt a good appetite for the main meals. In general, all meals are eaten at the table and fruit or yoghurt are basically the only desserts on offer. We encourage our children to try different types of food and on occasion, we certainly eat restaurant and take away foods such as Thai, Indian and Malaysian. In my opinion, a freshly prepared Pad Thai is still considered healthy eating.
When it comes to outright junk food, it is not eaten very often and our children know that it is a far cry from what we would consider normal eating. I certainly don’t ban it but our children know that the food is not considered healthy and is not something that we eat on a routine basis. We don’t even frame this type of food as a ‘treat.’ It is simply something that can happen from time to time, and when it is on offer, our children can eat and drink it. For example, we don’t offer fruit juice and soft drinks to our children in our home (it’s milk or water), however, if our child goes to a party and there are poppers on offer, she is welcome to drink them. As it turns out, she will help herself, have a few sips and it invariably gets left on a table somewhere. Ditto with french fries and chicken nuggets. By not making a big deal over these types of foods and by making the effort to eat in a healthy manner most of the time, our children get to make their own choices when presented with junk food. Whether they choose to eat it or not doesn’t change their day to day nutrition and it doesn’t create any food dramas on a day to day basis.”
Sounds damn sensible to me. What do you think?
Do you ever eat fast food? Do your kids?