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The McDilemma

Welcome to the April Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting advice!

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month we're writing letters to ask our readers for help with a current parenting issue. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


Dear Readers,

I have a McDilemma and I'd like your help. This week we are moving to Berlin for the summer. We are excited  about all of the opportunities this creates for our family, but there is one thing I am dreading already. The McDonald's one block from our apartment.

I don't like McDonald's. I try to avoid it for both ethical and nutritional reasons.  Where we live right now, that isn't very difficult. There is no McDonald's or other fast food within walking distance of our home. That means that our kids are generally strapped into their car seats in a fast moving vehicle when we pass a McDonald's. When they do ask for it, they have been told that it is junk, that eating it frequently would make them unhealthy and sick. Sometimes they accept that explanation and sometimes they object to it, but either way it is soon forgotten as we drive down the road and something more interesting pops into their brains. I'm not outright opposed to fast food and our kids do get the treat of fast food, on occasion, from one of McDonald's somewhat more ethical (but yet not perfect) competitors. Ultimately, the reality of where we live means that access to fast food is easily controlled by us.

Now, as we get ready to head off to Berlin, I find myself dreading the potential daily battles brought on by the McDonald's that is one block from our apartment and on the way to many of the places we would want to go (the park, the pool, the organic grocery store). I don't know for sure yet, but the golden arches may be visible from the bedroom my kids will be sharing. Sigh. We will not have a car (which I'm thrilled about - lots of walking and public transportation), so strapping them in and whirring past it is not an option. I'm hoping to avoid numerous tantrums on the street corner. You know the kind. The ones that test my patience and bring out the worst in my parenting.

There are a number of ways we could approach this.

  • We could forbid McDonald's altogether. Let them know right from the start that we will not be going there and why. Take the tantrums as they come and deal with them with as much patience as humanly possible.

  • We could allow occasional McDonald's visits and remind them when they are begging for it that they will get their treat on [insert date] and that they will have to wait until then to have it.

  • We could teach them about the perils of McDonald's, but ultimately leave the decision up to them. If they want to go there, we will, but with the assumption that if it is not forbidden and if they are armed with the information to make a good decision, that they will opt against McDonald's more often than not.

Each of these options has its merit, both in terms of parenting and my own values. Each of these options also has drawbacks, both in terms of parenting and my own values.

Keeping in mind the ages of my children (three and five) and the fact that I would prefer not to buy them McDonald's for ethical reasons (don't want my money being spent there), for nutritional reasons (don't want my family eating that crap regularly), and financial reasons (McDonald's is not as cheap in Europe as it is here and the money that would be spent on McDonald's could go a lot further at the grocery store or the market), please tell me, dear readers, what approach you would suggest and why?

Image credit: Vertigogen on flickr


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

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Reader Comments (77)

This isn't listed as an option, but what about making it a lesson in finances at the same time: start with your lesson in why McD's is crap. Then every week, give each of the kids the cost of a happy meal (or whatever their preferred treat is). Help them understand they have a choice: they can blow it on McCrap, or use it on something else that they will enjoy (give them healthy/fun options). I'm not sure if saving it would be a possibility for a 3 or 5 yr old, but you could always put it out there (maybe matching the funds they save after 2 or 3 wks for incentive?).

I would tell MY daughter, 4.5 & seemingly unable to understand the concept of "special treat," that we will not be eating there period. I find I need to be absolute with her on certain issues specifically about desserts because otherwise she asks for the special treat all of the time.

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterThat Danielle

We live about a block and a half from a McDonald's. We walk past it all the time to meet the bus and to be quite honest I never even noticed it there. We're vegetarian so I don't even think of it as an option and only notice it now because a friend mentioned it. I do not think that McDonald's should be thought of as a "special treat." Just because something is special does not mean it should be complete junk. There are plenty of treats that are not as junky that would not involve financially supporting a terrible company.

I lived above a family with a five year old daughter before I got pregnant and I remember her telling me once, "McDonald's is yucky and it is not real food. I would never eat at that place." So there is hope of convincing children that it is bad and to be avoided.

When I walk by with my daughter and the kids I babysit no one even mentions it. They don't think of it as a place to go and I like that.

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJenn

First of all, do you know why they want to go there? My boys (4 & 6) have been to McDonald's twice in their lives, and none with me. The one near us has an indoor playground. That is why they like to go there and why my mom has taken them. They actually didn't even care about the ice cream cone that was purchased for them so they could play and didn't eat them.

I don't like spending my money, or encouraging others to spend theirs, at companies that I have ethical dilemmas with. If it were my decision, we would never go there and I am fine with saying that we don't go there because of (insert however you personally feel). I also don't think they are old enough to feel that need to rebel about a forbidden fast food joint.

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBrenna

I live within easy walking distance of a McDonald's, as well as several other restaurants, both fast food and not. And for us, it hasn't been an issue. My daughter asks to eat at McDonald's pretty much every time she sees it, and then I say no, not today, and she moves on. She is 5 now, and we have lived here since she was born, so she spans the ages of your children. We have not yet had a meltdown because I said no.

My daughter isn't easy-going. She's had several-times-a-day tantrums on a variety of themes for most of her life. Luckily, fast food isn't one of them. Keeping her fed does help, because hungry kids are more prone to meltdowns. And, heck, I find that smell hard to resist when I'm hungry even though I know why I'm philosophically opposed. Beyond that, it hasn't been that hard.

I hope that your experience is similar, and that McDonald's becomes just part of the landscape for your children.

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

I would use it as an opportunity to learn about *why* McDonalds is crap that's bad for your body. Watch videos about factory farms, look at french fries actually being deep fried, etc.

Then, armed with that knowledge, let them choose how to spend a small (very small!) allowance each week. This will help illustrate the fact that junk food is expensive & not worth spending money on, especially if they can buy a nice treat elsewhere with that money instead.

We had a lovely gelato shop open up two blocks away from our house last summer - and it is right beside our local playground. We have had lots of flailing on the ground tantrums outside the gelato shop because I wouldn't go in and buy Bea an ice cream. What we do is occasionally walk down after dinner for a treat. I have made it clear that we don't buy ice cream every time we walk past, we don't get ice cream in the morning and we don't get it before we've eaten lunch. Bea still points it out every time we walk past though! Just in case I'd forgotten, I guess. :)

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle

A couple of years ago my husband and I watched a tv program about a man who tried to survive on mcDonalds for a month - bottom line, he couldn't. I new Mcd's was bad for you, but we ate it occasionally anyway, after that I was convicted of its horrors!!! I told my kids how bad it was for them and they refused to eat take-outs after that!!! It was an adjustment for me as I had used them for quick emergency meals. I discovered even when I thought we had nothing to eat we usually had something quick in the house. I just had to think a bit harder and prepare a little more carefully!!!

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterse7en

We pass a McDonalds every morning. Honestly, I never thought about this before - I talk to my daughter the same way I talk to myself when it comes to fast food (esp. McD's) - "That's not food."
It is seriously just not in my food lexicon anymore. I think the last time I ate there was in junior high and I would no more walk into a McDonalds than I would eat something out of a garbage can. It's just not something I do... As Amber said - it's kind of just part of the landscape...

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLauren

We are like you in that takeaway just doesn't come up where we live, but we recently went on an extended holiday in Europe. We had a ball eating at cafes and English pubs, and we only went into fast food places about twice. They were terrible experiences - the food was really bad, slow and expensive. In fact we only went in because it was -5 and we had to breastfeed! When given the choice they took the nice places.

We also have an informal rule that Friday night is for fun eating, whether that's a homemade pizza or some takeaway. So if they ask at other times we say we can think about it for Friday. Then Friday they have the choice, and we're upfront that we (the parents) won't be having that, we'll be having xyz.

We use 'lists' a lot as a delaying tactic. So if Christmas is coming up, we discuss that there is a limit on presents and it will be a surprise, but they can tell us what they like. Then when they see things, instead of asking for them they ask to put them on their list. They're happy, no tantrums, and when Christmas actually rolls around they're so excited at what they have that they don't think that they didn't get something else.

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDeb

First of all, it may not even be an issue. How do you know they will even ask to go there?
You're only going for three months or so. If they do ask, say no and explain why. If they are really curious, you can tell them that if they still want to by the end of your trip you will take them, once, shortly before you go back to the US.
That's what I would do.

I'm really not a fan of setting up "junk food" as a "treat". I don't think that sends a healthy message about food to kids. I'm also not a fan of putting down my foot and having an ultimatum. But, I also don't take my kid to McD's, and have no plans to ever start (if he even ever figures out what it is -- currently he has no clue). And normally I'm in favor of the last option, but there are also substances where I don't think that's appropriate, and for you (say, cocaine, or whiskey, or strawberries we just saw get sprayed with pesticides), McD's may be that. I'm not sure it would be, for me, in your situation, but it might be for you, and that's ok too.

I wonder, though, if there's another option -- one where you don't put your foot down, you simply... don't go. Rather than setting it up as an expectation of a conflict, you talk, in positive ways (it's all about tone!), about how it's not a place you're willing to spend your money, it's simply a place you don't go. And when asked "why", you can explain -- again, in a conversational way, not a confrontational one.

I've had that work, um, sometimes, and not so much others -- if it's something he's already experienced, it's a whole lot harder to do. So it might have approximately zero chances of working for your kids, if they've already entered the begging for it stage.

I think, whatever you choose, I'd hope that it be kept low-key. Never having, sometimes having, moralizing and letting them choose -- I'd hate for McD's to become a Big Deal to them, because of how whichever-path-you-choose is traveled. So maybe that's my advice -- whatever you do, do it lightly, and lovingly. Enjoy Berlin!

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterArwyn

When we were traveling as a family when I was younger, my siblings and I used to beg for McDonalds. And honestly, we asked for McDonalds more often in Europe than anyplace else--it felt familiar vs. all of the unknowns we were asked to eat all the time. My kids might have McD's once or twice a year, literally. I explain to them that the food isn't good for them, that I would prefer that they never ate it, and I don't eat there when they do. Sometimes outright banning something can create a desire for the forbidden; you know your children best. I vote for the second option.

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAzucar

I think the second option is your best bet if they're asking for it all the time. If a child wants something and continually asks for it, it's best not to give in on the spot but plan ahead and set ground rules for when, where and how often that special treat will be given. If lets them know that you're not a pushover and that there are limits they have to respect but that Mom and Dad are also willing to allow them a little freedom in deciding what they enjoy and consider a 'treat' even if that goes against the parents' personal ethics. I think it's important to recognise that children aren't always going to hold the same principles as their parents and to demonstrate to them that, while they need to respect others' principles, they don't always have to agree with or practice them.

If you're really not comfortable with taking them there at all, perhaps use the fact that you're in Berlin only for the summer as a compelling reason for them to choose another place and type of cuisine as their special treat, some place that they won't have access to once you return to Canada. Alternatively, you could ease up on the McDonald's restriction while you're there with the understanding on their part (if they're capable of doing so) that it is a Berlin treat only since you're on such an adventure together and that once you're back home it will be off-limits again. I think at their ages that might be a little tricky but if you think it would work that might be a good option.

Good luck with settling in and exploring your new city! I lived in Germany for a few months years ago and it was a fantastic experience.

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNoble Savage

Before I start, I'll confess my kids eat McDonalds more than the rest of yours put together ;) But we are all in agreement on its nutritional value and ethical issues.

If you feel ethically obligated to keep them out of that restaurant, I think it's fine to make that decision. It's rather similar to your little ones asking for a Nestle chocolate bar at the supermarket, choosing to say no is OK! If it's a burger and fries they're fascinated by, perhaps they'll accept a home-cooked version, a real-restaurant version or something else to get you through.

At the end of the day, though, I suspect it's going to be a wait-and-see game. They may completely ignore the existence of the golden arches after the first day or week. Or, you may find it easier on your sanity to promise a once-a-month or once-before-we-go experimental exploration into the realm of stuff-that-looks-like-food.

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSteph

I'm thinking a combination of 2 and 3. That is I would say no and encourage more nutritious and delicious food while explaining why I don't want them eating McDonalds. I'm thinking it may be difficult for them to understand the reasons that don't want them eating it, because of their age? I also like Hobo Mama's suggestion about giving them the cost of a meal. You could explain and show all the other amazing things they could do with the money. If they are really persistent I would then say that there is a special day once a fortnight or so that they can spend their money at McDonalds. When you are out and about you could say, "that $5.2 could buy two of these, or one of these etc; and if you saved it up in a couple of months you could buy one of these" etc.
Good luck.

We eat at McDonalds sometimes and my children know I really, really dislike the food. I like that they have decent allergy information on every tray-cover, though, so I know we won't be sick in the short term. Well, except I'll feel both hungry and sick, because it's not food, but the kids won't throw up or have the dire rear for three days. Now my children will sometimes ask for McDonalds but also know that if they're really hungry it won't fill them up and if I'm really hungry I will still be hungry afterwards.

But there are things we don't buy or do or eat because they are, for example, made by children, or the money goes to people who are mean to babies, or similar. They find these concepts very easy to understand. If your objection to McD's is because they are unethical rather than because it's disgusting pseudofood, well, letting the children into your moral outlook is part of parenting.

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAilbhe

All right, is it wrong that I'm just wondering if it's the same McDonald's I used to go to when I lived in Berlin? Maybe I'm not the best one to advise you...

The unschooling side of me (I do have multiple sides) says to not make it a battle. If you make eating non-crap a happy experience, then presumably they'll enjoy the good stuff more and the allure of McD's will diminish. Still, I think parents have the right to set standards for their families (that's one of my non-unschooling sides), so I would personally go with Option B.

I like Dionna's idea, too. Sam and I had the idea long before we had kids that maybe everyone (parents included) gets an allowance each week to spend at will, and when it's gone, no more treats that week. Maybe if you did that and showed them that you spent your allowance on more sustaining things, it would inspire them.

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLauren @ Hobo Mama

What Ailbhe said. Also, I wouldn't sell it as a "treat", instead I would clarify why you don't want to eat there. From experience, Berlin is full of wonderful little cafes - it might be worth scouting for a place that does a great hot chocolate, or Broetchen, or other snacks the kids like, or even a corner shop that sells these things.

If you don't eat at McD's, you will also have more money to buy them magazines like "Frag die Maus" or "Prinzessin Lillifee" or "Sesamstrasse" or "Mondbaer" :)

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMaria Wolters

I think you know your children best and will know what they can handle. I knew that my daughter would really dislike the food at Mc Ds - so I let her go there, she tasted it and never asked again - how do you think your kids would go? Would they like it? That may help with your decision. Are they the sort of kids that if their curiosity is satisfied, they will not ask again? Are they the sort if kids that if they go even once they will ask again and again.
If you are leaning more towards not letting them for ethical reasons - I wouldn't go at all. If it was more for nutritional reasons, then having that food occasionally will not hurt them.

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle

If it was me and my kids, I would go with #2, I think it would work best with them to know that McDs is something they will get at a specific time. I would probably ignore it until it specifically came up, though - they might surprise you and not ask!

I also know for my eldest (who is the one old enough to ask, the other one is only 17 months), what she really likes about McDonald's is the playground. Sometimes we'll just get an ice cream cone and she'll play for a while and then we'll leave. Is it actually the food they are attracted to or the whole McDs experience? I know for DD1 if it doesn't have the playground, she rapidly loses interest in the whole thing.

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnna

If you don't want to spend your money there for ethical reasons, then don't spend your money there period. And certainly don't call it a "treat" if you do give in.

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterShannon

I would also find out why they really want to eat there. For my daughter it's the fun happy meal box and the packaging and the toy...so sometimes we play McDonald's at home, except we use real food and she doesn't get diarrhea from it like she does McDonald's.

We take wax paper and make the hamburger wrapper for a homemade burger, and a little container for our fries, then put it in a fun bag or little box, and add a small surprise (like a little forgotten about toy or a sweet treat) and then serve it for supper. She thinks it's a great game and would rather play McDonald's now than actually eat there.

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

I would probably go with something along the lines of option 3.

I think the first time I ever ate at a McDonald’s, I was around 10. That was in the 1960s. I lived in Michigan’s upper peninsula and the nearest McDonald’s was 3-4 hours away. We ate there when we were traveling to visit our grandparents in Detroit and it really was a kind of a special treat.

When my daughters were small, we did sometimes eat at McDonald’s. By that time, of course I understood how awful the food was and, since I enjoy cooking, it wasn’t a frequent event. I don’t remember if I seriously tried to talk to them about the quality of the food. We either went there or we didn’t. I didn’t make a big deal out of it and probably half the time they didn’t eat that food any more readily than they ate whatever I cooked.

As they were growing up, they went through plenty of junk food phases and I usually just went along with whatever it was, mostly because I chose to fight other battles. (Micro-waved slices of pepperoni? Blech!) When they got to college, an interesting thing happened, which was that they chose to eat much healthier foods all on their own. I had largely given up McDonald’s by then except to grab an occasional coffee at the drive-thru when I was on the road. One day, my husband and I were traveling to visit our kids at their college. Thanks to poor planning, we found ourselves absolutely starving on the way. We didn’t have time to search out something healthy, so we stopped at a McDonald’s. When we got there, one of them got into our car and complained very loudly that the car smelled like McDonald’s. “Eeewww, you guys ATE at McDonald’s???”

Lots of good suggestions here and good luck however you decide to handle it. Every kid and family is different and you’ll figure it out.

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterkayak woman

I would set asied a marked "going for treats day" to which the kids can look forward, perhaps once a month, and then let them pick their treat. Who knows, they might choose to go elsewhere, especially if you educate them as to your reasons for not eating or supporting McQuestionable.
My 10 year old has given up, of her own free will, some of her favorite treats because SHE checks to see if they're nestle.

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSlee

My son is two and we live literally across the street from a McDonald's and he almost never asks for it. Occasionally he will ask for french fries or hash browns from there, but it's pretty rare and he sees it every day.
Another point that I didn't see mentioned here is that McDonald's in Europe can be very different from McDonald's in North America. They may taste it and not even like it. I ate at a McDonald's once in a German train station and at a KFC in Prague (don't ask) and it was unrecognizable from what I'd eaten here and completely disgusting.

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterElita @ Blacktating

Thank you all for the responses so far - some great ideas!

I thought it might be worth clarifying a few things about my kids and their relationship to McDonalds. I certainly hope it won't be an issue and I don't plan to turn it into an issue. My first response would be to try to explain calmly that it isn't a place we eat and explain why.

That said, I know that my kids do love fast food. I know it is the burgers, the fries and the experience they are going for (although not specifically the park because most of the fast food places we go to don't have one and I doubt the one in Berlin will have one). Although I can probably count on one hand the number of times they have been to McDonald's in their lives, I do know that they know what it is (billboards, friends, TV commercials, big rigs with a huge burger on the side of it, etc. all conspire to be sure of that!).

I also know their personalities well enough to know that it has the potential to turn into tantruming fits every time we pass by (or even if not every time, then frequently enough). I'm hoping that isn't the case, but am looking for advice in case it does happen, so that I have my plan of action ready.

Thanks and keep the great ideas coming!

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I would kindly & gently tell them (as many times as they need to hear, and it's usually a lot at those ages!) why your family chooses not to eat there. Ethically, nutritionally, financially you've got three great reasons for avoiding it. Sharing our ethical choices with our children and then letting them see us stick to those choices is a great life lesson for them.

Agree with not calling it a treat (cause it's so NOT a treat our planet or our bodies). And you might remind them that living in Germany gives you a chance to get lots of things you don't usually see back in the US.

Good luck and stay strong!

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterlisa

In my humble opinion, I think you're focusing on the wrong issue. This parenting dilemma is not about McDonalds or the ethics of eating there. It sounds like you're trying to avoid having your children feel disappointed or upset. Well, we all feel disappointed or frustrated when we hear "no". I would encourage you to say no and then allow your children to have those feelings and talk about them. That way you can address ways of expressing negative feelings in a way that's acceptable to you and set some boundaries around what's not ok. The list of reasons for the "no" will not really stop the feelings. They will probably help them understand it when they are done being disappointed, but we don't need to distract our children from feeling things that are unpleasant. Instead, I try to give them skills and experiences of handling and processing those feelings.

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKara

Can you do some combination of 2 and 3? Arm them with the information and set up a "treat day" where they can do what they want with the money they'd spend at McDonald's? e.g. - they can buy a Happy Meal (or whatever they have in Germany), or they can save it - maybe offer the incentive of interest - or they can get some other treat?

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNicole

I say a combo if 2 & 3 with play trips mixed in. My parents used to feed me at home and then take me to McDs to play only. That's really the only reason most kids want to go there anyway!

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMiss Sin

The positive side of me hopes that being in SUCH a different environment, the mcdonalds won't stand out so much for them?

Even now with my oldest (he's 8yrs old), if we pass a mcdonalds he wants an ice cream cone or milkshake, generally I just make it clear that 1. not healthy 2. can't afford it 3. the craving will pass. I don't want to make food a battle so I make it VERY clear that I am not saying "no" without an valid explanation.

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarah @ OneStarryNight

Claudia eats at McD's 4-6 times a month. She stopped eating beans consistently, and those nuggets are the only protein (besides milk) that she will eat. I don't like McD's because of their nutrition and the taste --but I am still oddly compelled to eat a burger there while saying, this is gross and full of fat.

Personally, I would deal with the tantrums as they occur, but Claudia doesn't throw that many tantrums. I did like the treat money idea, specially with how expensive it is to eat there outside of the USA and Canada. Is it possible to add a little extra walking to your day and just go around the McD's?

My idea is to get them hooked to some yummy German food and say McD's or new yummy treat. Giving choices to Claudia works wonders!


April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAndy

If the kids were older, I'd say the third option would be best. But at 3 and 5, I'd go with the second option. Though, if there are healthy alternatives close by also I'd say no way, explain why, and say they can get treats from the other places on such and such days.

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSummer

You already have lots of comments so I won't make it long.
I never went into macdonalds or any fast food for that matter until I was 16, it didn't damage me whatsoever. You will find that there are lots of healthy fast food alternatives in Europe that are equally attractive to kids, so I think that it will work out even with the avoidance of McDo.
If they still want to go, you just tell them it is dirty, noisy and crowded (which it often is in Europe, don't know how it is in US or Canada) and you'll go someplace nicer.

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermamapoekie

Here, it would have to be a consistent "no". My daughter is a negotiator, and if I said "yes" once, then she'd always be asking again. That aside, it would be no because, ugh, it's McDonalds.

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJuliette

I like Dionna's idea but I think your kids are too young for that. I'm pretty sure my kids (same age as yours) wouldn't "get it." We used to go to McDonald's A LOT but have cut back to making it a treat since the beginning of the year. The kids still ask for it sometimes but don't persist too much, which is amazing b/c they are pretty good at whining/begging for other things. So I'd go with your 2nd option of it being a treat.

Ugh! It's a difficult one but a very personal plan of attack based on your own beliefs and knowledge of your children's personalities. Good luck (still envious of the Europe posting).
Yes, the Wee Guy and I eat at McD's occasionally. The lure of the toys is the main thing and we do also have a great indoor play place at one of local McD's. Right now we have a few visits stacked up cos of the toys - a How To Train Your Dragon figure is with every HappyMeal! - and we do pass a McD's fairly often.
I see it as part of his "social dining training" - he's eaten out in a wide variety of places, posh restaurants, local diners, pizza parlours and so on. I remark casually on the style of each place, the food available, draw comparisons, mention nutrient content and so on appropriate for his age. Eating out is classified 'special' but McD's/fast food is never "a treat". It's mentioned casually, it's a demand never given in to at the moment, alternatives are given, where the choice is made it's specifically drilled down to why that choice is being made to give a thinking moment and so on. I guess I try to not to make 'much' out of it and it seems to work for us - he doesn't clamour to go to McD's specifically.
(In the interests of full disclosure I should admit I have only the one child, he's nearly 7 y old and can spot a 'teaching moment' a mile off, I'm an older mum - I do vaguely remember the 60's, we live in a suburban environment with malls, etc. and I have a PhD in nutrition).

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterebbandflo aka pomomama

My approach would be to find somewhere else close to you that has good food that the kids like and use that as a treat instead. So tell them McDonals is out, but XXXX is were we can go for a special occastion.

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCapital Mom

I absolutely suggest option 1 as that has worked well for us. While that may not seem so compelling since I have only a 2 year old, this was also used by my dad for myself (now 25) and my brother (now 13). I would go so far as to say - not even for special occasions. If you ask, the answer is no. If you are hungry, then you can eat and you can even help decide what to eat. I'm open to making pretty much anything at home, and we go out to restaurants all the time, so there's a wide variety of food available.

If he does want some junk, he is allowed to have it sparingly. A cookie at home, french fries at Chili's but we draw the line at McD's/Burger King/Jack in the Box, etc. It's just SO unhealthy, and barring a wilted salad, there's NOTHING redeeming about it (not to mention the commercial ethics questions). Plus it's always sticky and the people there are depressing. I think I'd rather let him loose in a giant tub of sugar than go to McDonald's.

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

First, I agree with your thoughts on and assessment of McDonalds.

You have asked for feedback, and I hope I'm not stepping on toes as I only recently started reading and commenting here. In general, what I would say is that I hope this is not a concern that is occupying much time and space in terms of your move to Berlin. Thousands of city-dwelling people, myself included, walk by McDonalds (or similar temptations) all the time with kids in tow and it's not an issue. Of all the fantastic, and challenging, things that come with an overseas move, this dilemma seems somewhat, well, trite. If you are writing about this b/c you want to draw attention to McDonalds and this is a convenient vehicle to do so, okay. I can see why you would do that. But for someone as capable, as intelligent and as hands-on with her kids as you seem to be, I can't really see how this would truly be an issue.

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMandy

Sadly, I must admit I ate more McDonald's in the six months I lived in Tokyo, than I ever have here at home, probably because it was "familiar". Now I eat there maybe once a year, and even that is too much for my DH because, it's just gross. We managed to avoid taking older DS until he was well over 3, which actually surprised many people we know (neither of our boys has ever had KD either). We consented to let grandparents take him though. He asks sometimes, sometimes we say yes, sometimes no. It's not usually a huge deal when we say no (and he is also one of those that really just wants to go to the play place -- sometimes he'll have a sundae while he's there, once he picked a muffin). Fortunately, he's more likely to request steak or sushi for a special treat (feeding these boys is going to get $$$$!) And fortunately younger DS (who was introduced earlier than 3 :P) took a bite of DH's Quarter Pounder and spit it back out.

All that said, if you have other objections to eating there, aside from just not wanting to make unhealthy food a habit even once in a while, just don't go. They may fuss, they'll get over it. When my kids walk past the "treat store" (gas station) on our corner they usually ask to get something -- more often than not I say no, we have treats at home/don't get a treat every day/I have no money on me (and I purposely go out without any so that this is true.)

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

Wow, so many great ideas! I like Arwyn's point about being as light and as loving as you can. The most important thing here is that you find a solution you can live with as an individual and a mom.

Looking at the other replies, the differences in opinion all seem to centre around values and what each poster seems to think is the most important part of the issue (i.e. nutrition, flexibility, ethics etc...). Drawing from this, I see the whole thing as a teachable moment where no matter what you do there will probably be some frustration, conflict and disappointment but ultimately, if you remain mindful of the larger lesson(s) you want your children to take away from it, you'll end up where you want to be as a parent.

For example, would you rather they come away from it with the understanding that flexibility means some (limited?) indulgences are okay or that certain things are beyond acceptable indulgence. Is your primary message that problem solving requires cooperation and compromise or that somethings can't be negotiated or compromised (i.e. like wearing a bicycle helmet or seatbelt). Do you want to teach them that standing by one's moral/ethical values are what's the most important or that we can pick our battles and still feel good about our actions. The list could go on ad infinitum but basically, if you can establish your overall parenting goal, you'll have a compass to help you stay oriented when responding to potential conflict.

That's great, but what about actually dealing with screaming young kids on the sidewalk in a foreign country you ask? On a more concrete and specific level, I think that making it an spontaneous arbitrary treat that they get sometimes but not others is opening a door for begging and tantrums (appealing to that arbitrary judgement and trying to swing it in their favour) and the need for you to put your foot down more than I think you'd like to. That being said, based on what you're asking, you're also not all that comfortable just saying "absolutely never" so I think the idea of planned rare visits might be your best bet. If you offer it as a possible choice even once or twice, but never just as you're walking by, they may feel they have some control and autonomy and will likely not feel as frustrated by your limitations.

Chances are, however, given the ages of your kids and their developmentally appropriate inability to accept the idea of "later" as a reasonable substitute for "now", you're still going to have to deal with some begging and/or tantrums but perhaps that's something you can deal with as it comes. If they freak out every time you walk by, maybe you can have a family meeting (at a time everyone is happy, not directly after an actual run-in with the McMonster) to discuss the problem and how to resolve it so everyone is happy - focusing not on eating there or not eating there but the fact that you need to be able to walk by without serious incident (this may be a little beyond kids as young as yours but talking about an ongoing problem however they can manage it might help alleviate at least some of your own tension/stress).

Any way you slice it, it's mom against McCulture and you're unfortunately fighting an uphill battle but that doesn't mean you have to compromise who you are as an individual or as a mom and thinking about it proactively, and getting help from your community like this, is a great step towards managing it well and coming out the other side happy with the overall results.

Have a great trip and keep us posted on how it goes, eh?

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterchapeskie

I would probably not go at all. Make it a lesson in all things: financially, ethically, nutritionally. Of course that is easier said than done. Let us know what happens!

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlexandra

I bet it will be a non-issue. With all the cool, new things they're going to see, I'm sure McDonald's won't even register with them. They'll be more interested in what's different there vs. at home. Your eldest child is old enough to understand in simple terms why it's not a nice company to support. They are horrible to animals, horrible to farmers, and horrible to their own employees. It's a sucky place to spend money.

susie ;)

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSusie Pearson

Are you sure this will be a problem in the way you are expecting? While McDonalds was never forbidden at our house it was rare (and disliked by us) enough that it has never been a big issue. However we have had some of that behaviour around TiggyWinkles and the local convenience store, which are both on our regular walking routes.

Having moved around ourselves I'm guessing that you will quickly find something new and fresh on your regular route that is an enjoyable treat for everyone. My take would be 'We don't eat McDonalds in Canada why would we ever do it in Berlin?' Sadly the nice German Coffee shops are equally expensive so finding your shared treat of choice may take a little while - but it's sure to be there.

We have a real tantrum diva (who can still perform at 12 though rarely in public nowadays) and I tend not to blame the triggers. The tantrum will arrive if conditions are right. McDonalds, fashion/food battles, mean Mummy moments and whatever else are usually just the tipping point the tantrum monster is looking for. Always easier if a melt-down can be delayed until your own front door is between you and various sympathetic/disapproving onlookers but I find it is generally only a delay. Tired, hungry, and toilet needs are the usual reasons around here. Everything else is just triggers.

Have a wonderful time in Berlin.

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterWendy

I'm not a fan of McDonald's either. I don't like the idea of forbidding it altogether since it becomes the forbidden fruit. I don't think your kids are old enough to make the decision about whether to go to McDonald's on their own or not. We have a McDonald's very close to us. My kids are 3.5 and 18 months and even though we see it every day, we have only been once a year. I think taking them once or twice in a few month period is all that's necessary. I would just explain that it's not healthy food, and we only eat junk food once in a blue moon and leave it at that. I would just take the whining after that.

Are you sure it will even be an issue? Friends have told me that when they are driving past McDonalds their kids say they want to go (or just point and say McDonalds when they are wee toddlers) but we don't eat there so I've never had that problem with our daughter (yet, anyway!)

So chances are if they haven't been exposed to it, they won't show an interest in it.

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterZoey @ Good Goog

Try asking them what they think would be fair. Could be an interesting conversation!

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGreta

I would avoid making it a "treat"... That sends a message that abusing your body is a treat, and it shouldn't be.
It's a hard one. I'm not above the occasional McDonald's visit, but it's about once a year for my daughter and I just tell her what I think about the food and why I don't like her to eat it very much.
Not that they listen to that logic, but you say it enough and eventually it MUST sink in, right?

I also fully expect a fallout when she's 16 and tired of eating healthy stuff.

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLindsayDianne

Greta: I think that could work if I decide I'm okay with them having a say in the matter. But I wouldn't want to ask them what they think and then decide I'm going to forbid it. So I need to at least work out which range of options I'm comfortable with before I decide whether it can be discussed or not. Does that make sense?

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

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