Carmen Rasmusen Herbert: (Un)happy meals

Published: Sunday, Aug. 12 2012 2:00 p.m. MDT

This image released by McDonald's shows their company logo featuring the famed golden arches.

McDonald's, Associated Press

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When I became a mom, I resolved to never do three things.

1. I would never hit my children.

2. I would never get a job and put them in day care, just to make more money.

3. I would never, ever take them to McDonald’s.

I was morally against it in every way — from the playplaces that didn’t seem particularly clean to the fatty, unhealthy food choices and toys that I believed encourage overeating and greediness.

Sound ridiculous? I didn’t think so.

Sure, I ate at plenty of McDonald’s in my growing-up years. In fact, an early family photograph shows my sister and I happily smashing our faces in vanilla ice-cream cones with a life-size plastic Ronald McDonald happily waving to us in the background. I even played in those indoor playgrounds. (The balls were my favorite. I’d always find neat things in there.)

As we grew and my mom did more and more research on the importance of whole, raw, organic foods, our diet drastically changed. We never bought candy or soda pop. (That is, unless we were going on an eight-hour-plus road trip — which when you think about it, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Four kids cooped up in a car for hours on end plus pounds of sugar equals total chaos.)

Instead of quick, easy meals made with canned soup, my mom would make equally delicious dinners from scratch with real ingredients. “White” food (flour and sugar) is basically banned from our house, as well as anything fried, canned or that includes the word “instant.” I can’t tell you how many books my ironman (and woman!) mom and dad have on eating healthy.

So … isn’t it incredibly mind-boggling that these two health-food freaks would be the ones to introduce my children to — gasp! — McDonald’s? Processed chicken nuggets! French fries! Sugary chocolate milk! (And never mind those darn apple slices. Every kid knows to chuck them out the window as soon as they open the meal’s box.) While my husband and I were on vacation, basking in the Puerto Rican sun, my kids were gorging themselves on McNuggets.

I couldn’t believe it. This opened a dangerous door. When I asked my parents, who purchased my children’s meals, why in the world they thought it would be OK to get them fast food, they replied, “They loved it! And they ate the whole thing!” Oh, OK. Well as long as they ate all the processed junk food, then I guess I feel better about them eating it, period.

Now every time we drive by a Mickey-D’s, both my kids scream. My 22-month-old frantically shouts, “DONALD’S! DONALD’S!” as he cranes his head around his car seat and kicks his feet, trying to get a better look. (I guess he’s proof of the statistic that most U.S. children can recognize McDonald’s before they can speak.)

And I admit, I’ve caved in. I have actually found myself in the drive-thru in moments of pure insanity, talking myself out of the fact that I’m doing something wrong. One time I even rolled down my 3-year-old’s window so the McDonald’s worker could hand him the Happy Meal — and you’d think it was Christmas morning by how excited he reacted.

“MOMMY! HE’S HANDING IT TO ME?! GIVE IT TO MEEEEE!”

So what’s so bad about fast food, anyway? Maybe I’m borderline paranoid when it comes to what my kids eat, but because I had such a hard time getting my first child to eat any food at all when he was little, I became ultra-aware of everything that went into his mouth.

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