Happy Meals in San Francisco, Part 2


Thanks for the thoughts and comments on the recent San Francisco ban on toy giveaways associated with less-than-nutritious food products; the so called “Happy Meal” ban.  I had a number of interesting conversations about it this week.

I definitely get the point made by those of you who say that it seems like a wild and unnecessary “big brother” step of government intrusion into family life, and into a matter that should be up to parental discretion.  If Happy Meals are out today, what is next?  Several people told me that they think the ruling seems arbitrary; who came up with this particular definition of “high fat/ high calorie” food sources in the first place?  It all smacks of a direct pot shot at McDonald’s made by “a small group of people who probably haven’t set foot in one of their restaurants in years,” according to one friend.

But while I understand that point of view, I have to say that overall, as a mother and a food marketing professional, I do support the intent of the ban, clumsy in execution though it may be.

The bottom line is this: Corporate direct marketing and advertising of food products to children – and I mean little children, as young as about 2 years old – is escalating, because it is extremely effective.  It may have started with, and even still contain, some positive elements, such as the promotion of beneficial  foods like fruits and vegetables – but far more dollars and attention are spent trying to sell your kids – not you, but your kids – food items that many parents would prefer that they not have.  I learned a lot about this when researching my book, “My Two-Year-Old Eats Octopus: Raising Children Who Love to Eat Everything.”

Toy-and-kiddie-food tie-in promotions are everywhere, far beyond McDonald’s Happy Meals.  How about the Fruit Loops, Oreo and M&M’s counting books for toddlers just learning numbers?  Coca-cola infant clothes, Krispy Kreme toy trucks, Toucan Sam stuffed animals, and “Barbie Works at McDonald’s” play sets.  And of course these toy products are just one piece of the puzzle — it would take many more blog entries for me to review all of the television, in-store, electronic and even in-school advertising that kids are subjected to.

Yes, of course, parental responsibility factors into this.  If you don’t want your kids to have this stuff, then don’t buy it for them.  But what also must be considered is this: The sheer volume of kiddie marketing has made the equation between “parents” and “corporate spending” completely unbalanced.  Parental influence is simply no competition against the hundreds of millions of dollars spent every year, pushing products that appeal to the basest desires of children.  No matter how vigilant and stringent you are, your kids will find this advertising, or rather, it will find them.  As a parent, I feel like I’m trying to stop an avalanche, armed only with a small snow shovel!

So bans like the one in place in San Francisco are one way for a community body, representing concerned parents, to fight back.  It may not be perfect, but I’m hoping it will send a message.  Some of us have truly had enough!

In the coming weeks, I will be writing more about the rise in marketing of “kiddie food products” directly to kids, and will give tips on how you can stem the tide in your own home.

One Response to “Happy Meals in San Francisco, Part 2”

  1. Annalise Richards Says:

    I grew up trying new foods and as an adult have an interesting palate. i have several friends who say their kids don’t like this or that, but what i’ve come to realize is its the same foods they wont eat. How sad 😦 i found this website Red Tricycle and they have some great food recipes for kids



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