Are Australian restaurants training children to eat bad food? That's the question posed in a recent ABC News report which took Aussie food eateries to task for failing to provide healthy options for kids. While most restaurants sell diet-friendly options for adults, the children' menu is usually filled with nothing but fried food such as chips and chicken nuggets. Many nutritionists think this could be contributing to Australia's growing problem with youth obesity.
For the most part, I agree wholeheartedly with this argument. Children should absolutely be given healthy food choices when dining out. But there's one place where the introduction of 'healthy eating' is a bridge too far. We're talking, of course, about McDonald's. In short: if you make your kids eat sliced apples instead of fries you are a fun-sapping, child-hating monster.
For the past few years, McDonald's has been adding so-called "healthy" options to its menu in a bid to improve its lardy reputation. First came the salads, followed by light wraps, grilled chicken and trendy condiments like sliced pineapple and kale. Needless to say, this crusade against flab has also targeted the Happy Meal.
Since 2012, McDonald's has been offering a range of low-fat choices for kids. Instead of the traditional cheeseburger and small fries option, parents can now purchase Happy Meals that contain a grilled chicken wrap and a bag of apple slices. You can also swap out the soft drink for low-fat flavoured milk, fruit juice or water. Apparently, more than a third of all Happy Meals sold in Australia now include one of these healthier options.
Look, I get that we need to foster healthy eating habits in our kids. Australia is already one of the fattest nations on Earth and the next generation could be the tipping point that tanks our health system. We need healthy kids for the good of the economy.
But McDonald's is not the time or place. Cast your mind back to when you used to visit McDonald's as a kid. If your family was anything like mine, it was probably on a Sunday evening after a day trip somewhere when your parents couldn't be arsed cooking dinner.
Remember the smell of those piping-hot chips and caramelised burger bun in the rapidly-dampening brown paper bag? That right there is what child happiness smells like. A bag of odorless apple slices and a plastic bottle of water just doesn't cut the mustard.
If you want your family to be healthier, don't take your kids to McDonald's. Denying them the full experience of a Happy Meal is just cruel. Our advice is to make it a very occasional treat that only includes food your child chooses.
Just say "No" to Happy Meal apples. Your kids will probably still grow into healthy adults — but with much fonder memories.