Ronald McDonald is not the devil

OK, let’s just all get our shit together here and stop obsessing about how McDonald’s is contributing to the downfall of civilization.

I’d like to start this argument by detailing my background with McDonald’s – or as many people view it: The Evil Empire.

My relationship with McDonald’s began in the same fashion it does with many young Americans: The food was so good to my three-year-old culinary.aesthetic that it might as well have been toddler crack. And they were giving toys away, too. Really, could there be a better place?

Fast forward a few years to a time when a nasty rumor circulated that McDonald’s was using some kind of worm in their hamburgers. I believe I was in third grade. According to Wikipedia, the most prevalent form of this tale was that Mickey’s D’s used earthworms, which is curious because, apparently, earth worms would cost more to buy in bulk than beef. Nevertheless, the story left a bad taste (Ha! See what I did there?), and I stayed away – albeit temporarily.

However, by the teen years, and the time I had my driver’s license, I was full on Mick D’s crazy again and there were many a good evening spent driving through, late-night, to gorge ourselves on cheeseburgers, or, as my best friend Meliss liked to have: The “QP.”

Then, tragedy strikes sometime during my senior year of high school: I hit my local McDonald’s after an evening of studying at the library down the street. About two hours later, I begin wretching my guts out. Never have been sure if it was food poisoning, or a badly-timed case of stomach bug. Either way, the incident was enough to put me off McDonald’s – and all burgers, actually – for about ten years. I became a vegetarian soon after and I don’t think I visited a McDonald’s for anything but a bathroom run on a road trip for a decade.

As I matured and life changed, so did my attitude toward McDonald’s. I started eating some meat again in my early thirties, that included McDonald’s cheeseburgers. Then my children came into my life, and McDonald’s became my go-to place for many an evening when there wasn’t a ton to eat in the house and I just didn’t feel like shopping and/or cooking. These days, I’d guesstimate I take them to McDonald’s about once a week. There, I admitted it. Go ahead, call DSS on me.

Here’s the thing: I just really don’t think McDonald’s is the devil, like so many of you try and accuse. There is a push right now by a some sort of consumer/health/children’s advocacy group – whatever – to get McD’s to do away with Ronald as their spokesperson/character/mascot/figure (just what is he?). McDonald’s, as well they should, has basically told them to go take a flying leap. Ronald ain’t goin’ anywhere.

In response to this, LA Times writer Marissa Cavellos makes a good point in a recent post about comparing McDonald’s food to the standard kids meals they usually receive for lunch at home or school. As Cavellos notes in her article, a cheeseburger Happy Meal — a small cheeseburger with small fries and 8 ounces of 1% milk — has 640 calories, 26 grams of fat and 1,040 milligrams of sodium, according to a nutritional menu from the McDonald’s website. Also available is a 4-piece chicken-nugget meal, complete with apple dippers and low-fat caramel dip and apple juice, at 380 calories.

“Now, for the heck of it, let’s take a look at a traditional PB&J lunch served up at home,” notes Cavellos. “For the sandwich, let’s use two slices of Wonder bread (70 calories each), two tablespoons of Jif (190 calories) and one tablespoon of Welch’s grape jelly (49 calories). Add half an apple (47 calories). And a cup of 1% milk (102 calories). According to, that lunch comes in at 528 calories.”

So, as the writer points out, you making your kid a PB&J at home isn’t really all that much better than taking them to McDonald’s – in fact the McNuggets and Apples option is actually fewer calories than the PB&J. OK, I know a bunch of you will now hop onto the sodium count, or some other health factor in the McD’s food. But I’m not buying it.

Here’s my point: Simply by claiming you don’t eat at McDonald’s, or take your kids to McDonald’s, doesn’t make you by virtue of your avoidance that much healthier than those of us who do. Do you walk the walk at home and give your kids only healthy food? If you do, power to you. I’m glad you’re not my mom. (Fun side note: My sister has a friend who has never given her child candy. One year at a Christmas party at my sister’s home, the aforementioned candy-deprived child was found ensconced behind a large Christmas tree, surrounded by the wrappers of about one thousand Hershey’s Kisses.)

I’m the first to admit that there are many days I am THAT mom: The one who lets her kids watch more than the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended one hour of TV. The one who would prefer to take her kids to the McDonald’s Play Place and let them eat McNuggets for dinner rather than bring them home and make them grilled chicken and veggies. I hate to cook. I always have. I’ve made my peace with this.

On the other hand, I don’t allow them to eat junk all day. They get their five-a-day allotment of fruits and veggies. Many times we’re at McDonald’s, I’ll insist on the apples for a side dish instead of fries. They drink milk. And at the end of the day, they really could care less about the food, they are obsessed with the cheap Happy Meal Toy. Go figure. I have to repeatedly remind them to “have a few more bites.’

There is a happy medium to be struck here. As Morgan Spurlock so aptly points out in his documentary “Super Size Me,” going to McDonald’s all the time will make you fat, give you high blood pressure and nearly destroy your liver. So don’t. But eating a Happy Meal once in a while – even (gasp!) weekly – isn’t going to kill your kids. Relax.

This entry was posted in Lessons learned, Reality check, This doesn't make sense, You can't have it all. Bookmark the permalink.

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