I went to pick up my three year old at his daycare center yesterday. He was ramming around outside in the play area with all of his little buddies, as they do every afternoon. As I opened the gate to gain access, one of the teachers approached me. She was holding a clipboard.
Oh no, I thought. Who did my kid hit today? Or maybe he had a poopy accident again? What has he done today that will ruin his chances for admission to Yale?
As she got closer, I braced myself for the bad news.
“Tomorrow is McDonalds Day,” she said. “The kids are having McDonalds for lunch. So, what does your son prefer – McNuggets, a Hamburger, or a Cheeseburger Happy Meal?”
Oh, is that all? I thought, relieved. I responded reflexively, as if I had rolled up to the Drive-Thru window: “He likes a Cheeseburger, but with only pickles and nothing else… Fries are OK, no need for the apple slices, and white milk. Boy toy. Can you read that back to me please?”
As I was driving home, my first thought was, that’s cool, at least I know he’ll eat his lunch tomorrow. Sometimes, the food at the daycare center is less than appealing to the picky preschool palette. My middle son attended the same daycare and is scarred to this day from the canned peas they served.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that my Inner Perfect Mom was appalled. “They are buying McDonalds for your child!” she screamed as she flicked me on the head. “Your child, whose baby food you used to make from organic vegetables, to whom you used to insist upon feeding nitrite-free meats and organic milk. They are setting him up for a lifetime of dependence on fast food!”
“Meh,” I replied. “At least they warned me ahead of time. What if I was going to pick up McDonalds for dinner tomorrow night? Now I know not to do that!”
IPM scoffed. “Hey, you’re the one who just read Fast Food Nation! You know what goes into a Happy Meal. I can’t believe you all still eat that crap, let alone, feed it to your children, let alone, your youngest child!”
She had a point. That book did make me stop and think. And wouldn’t the author have a field day with a daycare center providing McDonalds food to its captive, impressionable lunchtime audience? Yet, despite reading the book, I can’t say I’ve changed my habits much, because let’s face it, McDonalds is in heavy rotation for many families where two parents work. It’s fast, it’s hot, it’s pretty inexpensive, and kids eat it. And the fries? To die for. (Shut up, you know it’s true.)
But what was I going to do? Opt my son out of McDonalds Day? Reply to the teacher, all holier-than-thou (and hypocritical), “Sorry, we don’t do McDonalds”? Pack him a nutritious lunch of fresh fruit and baby carrots and low-sugar yogurt and a nonprocessed meat sandwich (no peanut butter allowed in our center) on whole grain bread? So he could sit there and watch with envy as all of his little buddies rip into their Happy Meals and open up their pastic-wrapped plastic toys with short-lived joy and excitement? No way! That could scar him as much as the canned peas did my middle son.
IPM had to admit that I had a point there. Kids don’t like to be singled out, even at that young age. (That’s like blog fodder for 20 years from now!) She made me promise to cook a nutritious dinner instead of doing carry-out, and to serve an actual vegetable with the meal. Then she brought out the nukes: “But, no McDonalds the rest of the week.”
“Uh, do you mean for the kids, or for me?” I asked meekly.
“ALL OF YOU,” she bellowed, as she squinted her eyes and flicked my head again.
I conceded that point.
So, what’s the Inner Perfect Mommy to do? When do you subdue those tendencies and choose the path of least resistance? How far do you lower your expectations for the sake of conformity or convenience?
I’m not trying to be perfect, but, like all parents, I want to do what’s best for my kids. I want to hate McDonalds, but I… just… can’t. I don’t. I often say, all things in moderation, and I want to believe that applies to fast food, too. And truly, we don’t eat it all that often… though definitely on roadtrips, and sometimes on busy weeknights. We’re sure not on the Supersize Me diet or anything. My kids are healthy, active, and of normal weight.
So, is McDonalds Day at daycare, as a special treat, so bad? I don’t think so, as long as it’s just every great once in a while. But what do you think? I’d love to hear both of all six of my readers’ thoughts on this. Even the lurkers. C’mon, leave a comment. Weigh in (no pun intended). You know you wanna.