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Oh How Far Fast Food Has Come...

Looking for The Lactivist? She's retired. But you CAN still find Jen blogging. These days, she's runs A Flexible Life. Join her for life, recipes, projects and the occasional rant.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

I remember growing up and eating fast food VERY rarely. It happened now and then if we were out shopping and it was usually Arby's...but it did happen now and then.

In those days, if you went to McDonald's or Burger King, you probably got a cheeseburger, fries and a small soft drink. If your parents didn't want you drinking soda, you got Hi-C, the world's lamest attempt at "well, it's better than pop."

Things have come far. Very far.

I try not to eat fast food very often and I try not to feed it to my kids very often, but the reality is that we end up eating it several times a month. Sometimes it's on a drive home to visit my folks because I'm snagging food on the run for the trip, sometimes it's running errands around town when I've forgotten to pack bentos for everyone.

Today I was out with the kids and needed to snag a quick bite for them. I was thinking about what my options were and I realized they weren't near as bad as they used to be. We ended up at Wendy's where each kid got chicken nuggets, low-fat strawberry yogurt and milk. Sure, the nuggets aren't super healthy, but they're not the end of the world terrible either. I had the option of a turkey sandwich or a ham sandwich for them as well, but I'm not a big fan of lunch meat and neither are the kids.

That's when it struck me. The irony that I probably could have done "better" at McDonald's. I have long loathed McDonald's. Their burgers are gross (Greg and I have wondered if their new "Angus" burgers come from herds of cattle they simply name "Angus" rather than from the breed or if they're simply the Angus that die of natural causes in the fields) and their fries are horrifically bad for you. In the last couple of years, they've made some progress though.

If we'd gone to McDonald's today, I would have ordered myself a grilled chicken chipotle snack wrap or two. The kids would have had a grilled chicken snack wrap (sans the sauce), an order of apple dippers and some milk. When you think about it...that's really not such an unhealthy meal. It's certainly not any worse than what I often end up feeding them at home.

Then I spotted an article at AdAge that discusses Burger King's plans to appeal to parents that want a few more healthy options. Burger King will soon be introducing the "frypod." It's basically a fry container served full of raw apple slices cut to look like french fries. There's no sugar added and they're served up fresh. Based on the picture to the right, they look pretty darn cool.

The article went on to say Burger King was also developing grilled chicken bites to offer in place of the fried, nugget style ones. They'll also be offering up small bottles of milk like McDonald's and Wendy's have been using for awhile now. The move was part of the decision to join the Better Business Bureau's Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative. Burger King will also be limiting their advertiser to children under 12 and will use "healthier option" meals when they do market to kids.

The thing I like most about this shift is that it's not being forced by the government and it's not limiting people's options. There's absolutely nothing wrong with eating a burger or nuggets now and then, or letting your kids have some french fries. But in a world that moves as fast as our does, it's VERY nice to see companies recognizing that parents want to feed their children healthy foods and want the OPTION to make better choices as they cruise through the drive through.


  1. Blogger MG | 1:10 PM |  

    I abhor fast food, but I do have to begrudgingly admit that the selections have gotten better. While it's no substitute for whole foods, at least if I am in an absolute pinch I know I can get fruit or something of the like for my kiddos now.

  2. Blogger Cagey | 1:11 PM |  

    Timely post for me since we just ate at McDonald's today. The thing is, I actually do love their cheeseburgers - flat, plain, small cheeseburger. Yum. Nothing fancy.

    Between us, my son and I shared a small fry, a milk, a water and we had the sliced apples for dessert. We don't normally eat beef in the house anyway, so a cheeseburger out of the house every now and then isn't going to hurt.

    Sure, we've had healthier meals, but I suspect we ran a bit of it off when we went to the park just afterwards.

  3. Blogger Lesley | 1:15 PM |  

    Yes, it is nice isn't it that we can make better choices at fast food restaurants? I love McD's (yep, I'm a big mac fan, especially when I was pregnant) and my husband was so happy with the deli sandwiches and so forth.

    Now...if we could only alleviate the guilt over the dents it puts in the budget, lol!

  4. Blogger Irmgart | 1:56 PM |  

    wow... that's amazing! It's astonishing what a little bad press and public relations can do :)

    (also, it took me several months to realize you also post on bentoyum... you are now my hero ^_^)

  5. Blogger The Lactivist | 2:21 PM |  

    LOL irmgart! I have to ask...how did you find your way to both sites if you didn't know both sites were mine?

    Sheer coincidence?

  6. Blogger YoMama | 2:55 PM |  

    What blows me away the most about these fast food places is the portion sizes. When we were kids small was exactly that - small. Now there is no small (or wasn't last time I checked which was probably a year ago) and even medium is about what extra large was when we were small.

    I also try never to eat fast food, especially after watching "Supersize Me!". Have you seen it? The doctors on there imply that eating fast food even once a month can cause some long term damage - but I'm not sure I'd go that far myself. All things in balance in my opinion (and that goes for exercise too).

  7. Blogger Renata | 6:03 PM |  

    Apples that look like fries? Maybe curly apples. That would be cool. I agree options are getting better, but when things get too gimmicky, they end up not lasting long. Remember the shake salads McD's had? Never mind they used Newman's salad dressing. Once the salads looked respectable, people started buying it.

  8. Blogger JK | 10:40 PM |  

    I watched "Supersize Me," as another commenter mentioned, and I think I've eaten at McDonalds 1 time since. (I watched the movie in 12/04.) I didn't WANT to eat at McDonalds when I did, but I think it was the only food option for hours on a drive.

    I am glad fast food restaurants are offering healthier options, but they didn't really have any where to go but in the healthy direction. They were pretty much rock bottom in terms of nutrition.

    I sound pretty negative about Fast Foods, but it bothers me how much weight we've been gaining as a country and even more, it bothers me that people in lower SES groups are heavier (and have been heavier for a while). ( http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1449404 for an article ) I'm pretty sure that I could dig up an article pretty quickly which would show that lower SES people eat at McDs more than more affluent folks.

    As a country, we need to become more aware of what we eat and just how much it hurts us. To tha end, I'm excited by your bento enthusiasm.

    I'll stop now, but I don't think the fast food industry has come that far. And, yea, no gov't intervention, but a drive to pull in new markets and expand their reach is what they are doing by offering the *slightly* healthier options. The cynical me things that ,ost likely, people who come for the slightly healthier options will eventually come just for the grease once they get sort of used to the idea of going.


  9. Blogger JudyBright | 6:40 AM |  

    The thing I like most about this shift is that it's not being forced by the government and it's not limiting people's options.

    That's true, but I think a major part of the motivation is fear of lawsuits blaming fast food for childhood and possibly adult obesity.

    I do eat fast food way more than I should, and am working to quit for health and budget reasons.

    The angus burger at McDonalds is good, and the beef tastes nothing like their regular burgers. It's just way too expensive.

    The one thing that annoys me related to what you mentioned is the commercial where McDonalds tries to pass off McNuggets as a healthy choice for a kid. They're just not.

  10. Blogger The Lactivist | 6:53 AM |  

    Oh I don't care what other people at at McDonald's. Eat yourself to death, it's your choice.

    You can eat bad at home too. ;)

    But I AM quite happy to know that I can now pick up a fruit and yogurt for breakfast, or fresh apples and grilled chicken in a tortilla for lunch. :)

    And I have zero doubt you're right about lower income people eating more McDonald's, but having read the nutrition info for Ruby Tuesdays, I can tell you that isn't all bad. (Ruby Tuesday's much hyped steak burger has THREE TIMES the fat and calories of a Big Mac.)

  11. Blogger The Lactivist | 7:18 AM |  

    Yep Judy, that McD's commercial made me laugh out loud.

    Apple dippers? Sure, those are healthy if you ditch the caramel sauce. Milk? Ok, but I go for the apple juice and water it down 50/50 instead.

    But McD's chicken nuggets? As HEALTHY? ROTFL. Uh huh...sure. All white meat doesn't equate to healthy, but it's amazing what marketing can do.

    As for the Angus burger? I tried it and honestly, I threw 3/4 of it away. I couldn't stomach it.

  12. Blogger JK | 11:04 AM |  

    I would lump Ruby Tuesday's into the Fast Food camp. Just because you sit down at a table and get some service, does not make the food better. (Those kind of restaurants are called Quick Service Restaurants (QSR) and aren't much better--if not worse 'cause it's easier to think that the food must be better because the atmosphere is.)

    Other BAD restaurants are pretty much all chains. To name a few bad ones, Appleby's (a fav around here-heh), Bennigans, Starbucks, Marie Calendars, etc. I shudder to think about the amount of preservatives, trans fats, and other chemicals in their foods.

    You mentioned Panera the other day. I like Panera. :-) I usually get a salad there... I like their Salmon... (http://www.panerabread.com/menu/cafe/salads.php is where you can get their nutritional info about their salads). The Salmon is not too bad nutritionally and not too bad chemical wise...I really like their Asian Chicken Salad, but the dressing has High Fructose Corn Syrup... (Don't even get me started on that :-).

    Sorry for all the comments, but the way we think about food in this country is something I think about... It's not my field, but I think about it a lot.

  13. Blogger Heather | 11:12 AM |  

    COMPLETELY off topic, but this was an article I think you'll be interested in.



    According to some info, she's already getting special treatment for her ADD, and they're breaking up the test over two days. So she's already getting some concessions, but is still wanting more.

    Just thought I'd give you a heads up to see what your thoughts are. :)

  14. Blogger Jen | 7:33 PM |  

    I agree that you can eat bad at home and I'm glad there are some healthier choices at these places. I just can't patronize them anymore. The large portions, marketing to kids, the poor quality of product, etc. People always use the "I'm in a hurry" excuse. Pop into a grocery store and buy an apple. It doesn't take any longer, really. Visit your local, independently owned pizza place or taco place. Just because they have a drive through, doesn't make it fast. We've all waited forever in a drive-thru. And before anyone says anything, I have 4 children currently aged 9,8,7,5. I've been there dragging them all in the grocery store, etc.

  15. Blogger The Lactivist | 8:24 PM |  

    You are a braver woman than I am if you drag four kids into a grocery store for a quick snack while you are out and about.

    If I have to unstrap and carry two kids into the place to get food, it ain't gonna happen.

    It's why I mostly rely on bento boxes. Or simply timing my trips better. :)

    But if I have to get food and we're in the car, I'm not getting out, end of story. So it's going to be fry shaped apples and grilled chicken tenders for me. :)

  16. Anonymous Anonymous | 2:52 PM |  

    My favorite fast food meal comes from Wendy's and has the side benefit of being cheap: Five piece chicken nuggets, a side salad, and a baked potato with sour cream and butter. It's reasonably balanced and has enough calories to keep this pregnant lady going for a few hours.

  17. Blogger 2-10 | 11:27 PM |  

    Ok, I started making a comment to your post about McDonald's/fast food and got so carried away that I actually made it into a post on my blog! :-O I didn't know I was so passionate/opinionated about this...ok I did, but I didn't know I'd be able to crank out so many words in so little time about this topic. You can read if you wish. Thanks for your blog; I love it.

  18. Anonymous Debby | 3:17 PM |  

    A little warning about the McD's apples. The last time I ate there (prior to watching SuperSize me, btw!) I thought I was picking healthier options. Like the package of apples for my kids. As food tends to do with the under-5 set, some of the packaging and food ended up around the back of my van. More than 3 months after my last trip to McD's, I finally got around to cleaning out my van (hey, I had just had a baby, okay? And before that, bed rest, so cleaning my car was low on the list!) And what should I find, but a package of McD's apples with two uneaten slices inside. In an opened package. Looking PERFECT as the day I bought them.
    I checked the ingredients list, and all that was in it was apples and citric acid. No preservatives, no nothing. So something is SERIOUSLY wrong with those apples. Apples that I know about tend to turn a little brown after, oh, about 15 minutes of being exposed to air...

    And THAT, to me, is even scarier than forever-preserved french fries (which you can find out about by watching the special features on SuperSize Me).

    I'm telling you, those have to be some kind of mutant apple!

  19. Blogger The Lactivist | 3:35 PM |  

    Citric acid is used to help keep them from browning. I rub lemon juice over apples and pears for bento boxes all the time for this reason.

    Must have been something strange with your batch. I've left the bag of apples in my diaper bag once or twice and the next day, they always smelled spoiled.

  20. Anonymous Debby | 7:18 PM |  

    Yes, I do that too, when I make apple pies. But I never expected them to look appetizing after more than a month. :-)

    Perhaps the ones I found in my car were from some tree grown near an atomic test site and now they've gone back to using non-mutated trees...

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