We had a close call last week, a close call that kind of snuck up on me. My son was heading off to a play date late in the afternoon, under the promise that he would play with his friend, and refrain from teasing that friend’s little sister. Their mother had some work to finish that afternoon, and she couldn’t spend the time mediating skirmishes between the kids.
He was to stay for dinner, which was to be a quick one, so Mom could continue to work. She suggested McDonalds, and my boy’s eyes lit up. He said, “Sure, I’ve never been to McDonald’s!”
In the end, they ordered pizza for dinner, as my friend was unwilling to be the one to first bring him to McDonald’s, especially since we held off nearly 10 years. But at the time, I don’t think I would have minded if they went. I was ready to let him go, I knew that he would enjoy it. I knew that he would have stories to tell his sisters about what goes on inside that restaurant with Golden Arches outside.
Hmm . . maybe he could enlighten me as well. I know it has been about 15 years since I’ve stepped into a McDonald’s.
I’ve had my share of Big Mac’s in my day. But as an adult, I turned away from fast food for a variety of reasons, so it just doesn’t really occur to me that McDonald’s in an option for dinner.
Before I became a parent, I made the decision to not to let my children dictate where – or what – I ate for dinner. I remember years ago while visiting a friend who had three young children (I was not married at the time). The kids needed something to eat, so my friend pulled into a McDonald’s drive-thru and two of her kids shouted out what they wanted. The other asked if she could drive thru Burger King so he could get what he wanted (it was within sight).
They knew exactly what they wanted, and how to order. My friend then turned to me, and said, “What would you like?” I was confused, and thought to myself, “What do they have that I would eat?” I ended up ordering a salad of sorts, but had no idea what the size offerings or dressing choices were.
It was an eye-opening experience for me. At that moment, I knew that this was not the way things were going to be when I had kids. I didn’t want my kids to drive me to eat in a place I didn’t want to eat myself. I knew that I didn’t want my kids to be so well-versed in a fast food menu offerings, that I would be required to visit more than one fast food restaurant to satisfy the differing taste preferences of my kids.
Years later, here I sit with four kids, making home-cooked meals 98% of the time. When we do ‘indulge’ in a bit of fast food burgers, we head to In ‘n Out. But for the most part, fast food doesn’t come from a drive-thru. Instead it comes from our kitchen. Here in our house, when I think to myself, ‘What can I get for my kids quickly?’ My mind starts to run down the list of quick meals I have in my mind. It’s taken me a while to get to this point (having the arsenal of fast food options here in my house), but I’m glad I’m there.
In the end, I don’t mind if my kids enjoy a McDonald’s hamburger and fries from time to time, because I know it is a right of passage. It is part of our culture, and right now, it is a mystery to my kids.
It is this mystery part of the equation that worries me.
Will our fast-food avoidance backfire? Will the lure of the mystery drive my kids to indulge and go over the deep end once they gain a little independence. This ‘fear’ extends beyond the pull of fast food, but chips and cheese- covered Doritos, soda and candy — all of which my children have had in the past. We just don’t keep these in our house. And, when they are in our house, the temptation is often too much for them. I know, they taste good (I remember gobbling down a bag of Doritos, then sticking my finger in the corner of the bag to get the last dustings of crumbs and flavoring before tossing the bag in the garbage.) But will they be able to not go overboard once they are beyond my grasp.
The evening of this ‘close call with McDonald’s’ Greg and I had a long discussion about fast food, and our resolve to not make this an regular ‘option’ for our meals. We are both well aware of the fact that our kids eventually will head to McDonald’s with their friends – especially as they become more and more independent. We also know that our kids will try it and enjoy it, but are confident that they will realize that it isn’t an everyday occurrence. We are confident that we are arming them with a healthy repertoire of homemade foods; with an education about making good choices when it comes to meals; and a palate that is trained to enjoy food made from scratch – with ingredients that they can pronounce themselves (and maybe even picked form the garden).
It is the temptation that worries us. Will our children view fast food (or a bag of chips) as a treat or as the forbidden fruit? I guess that remains to be seen.
Postscript: Thank you to my friend who offered to take my son to McDonald’s. I know it is not an everyday occurrence for your family – It made us think. We have planned a fast food experience dinner with the kids, where we buy burgers and fries from several different fast food outlets, and bring them home for a taste test with the kids. We are curious to hear what they have to say.