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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:

(This list will be updated by the end of the day April 13 with all the carnival links.)

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Reader Comments (77)

I would blend #2 and #3. Forbidding it will backfire I think but leaving it completely up to them could backfire as well. I think giving them the responsibility to make the choice on a limited schedule might work. Teaching making good food decisions is as important as providing good nutrition in my opinion.

I'll have to read all responses once the girls are sleeping. But my 2 cents worth is use the finances as the starting block. At 3 E recognises most money and has a base idea of it's value. She knows we need money for each thing we buy. She also understands that if we buy item A, we do not buy item B. But she also has her own piggie bank and will be using her own money for treats soon. As it is McD's is never an option for our family so we wouldn't need to worry, but if for some reason the girls really wanted to go in (for the playground) there is yogurt or fruit cups that are okay for us - there are also muffins etc. You don't need to buy burgers from them just b/c you go. The rule that if you go they have to choose from x,y,z - cannot have a,b,c.

Good luck.


April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

This is pretty much what I was going to say. My children often ask for things and I say "no" and sometimes don't even give a good reason or explanation -- lately I have been saying "Let me think about it" which seems to avoid a tantrum

If they are upset then you can just help them work through it. Or you can make a suggestion instead "if you're hungry, how about this banana I packed?" or "if you need a toy, how about this toy?" or "no, we can't go to mcD but we can go to the park instead" (my kids associate McD with the playground inside not the food).

You'll have to let us know how it goes!!!

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlina

I also vote 'just don't go'. As mom, if you're uncomfortable spending your money there, that's your prerogative! Maybe a simple "I don't want to support them with my money." (which covers ethical, nutritional AND financial reasons) would be sufficient. Perhaps if you make it a mantra, saying it every time you walk by, they'll stop asking!

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKim

I don't mean let them decide, but I see what you mean.
I dont' know how old they are either.

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGreta

Besides the odd milkshake from a drive-through, we don't take our 5yo twins to any fast food restaurants. We do, however, take our kids out to mom-and-pop burger joints and for Vietnamese and sushi. So far, they're fine. Plus, denying our kids McDonald's will give them the added benefit of having something concrete to whinge about with their friends later on (or with their therapist).

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterIronic Mom

I'm not sure if the kids would opt not to go to McDonald's at their ages, (option 3) even if you arm them with information. For now I think that option one is best. You should educate them about why you don't want to take them for all of the reasons you described, and stick with that. Hopefully over time they will internalize your values so that when given the decision to partake in McDonald's when they are older, they won't find the prospect so appealing even when offered as a special treat. Perhaps there is a healthier and also fun restaurant in Berlin that can become your pleasurable eating out experience. Good luck and safe travels.

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle

I've eaten at McDonald's here in the US plus in France, England, and Sourh Africa as a kid/teen and thought it was GROSS everywhere but here. Don't know what the exact cause(s), but I now have a rule of eating local food in foreign countries, 'cause the American food is NOT going to be the same. I would consider telling your boys it doesn't taste the same in Germany 'cause it's made from different cows and potatoes and oil, or just take them and let them taste for themselves. Then find a great local place instead to offer as an alternative. When given the choice, my brothers and I would've picked the French pastry shop, or fish n'chips in London, over foreign McD's everytime after the first!

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMaman A Droit

I put my foot down, and refused to eat at such places/do such things while my 4 were growing up. I would say no, I don't like that, and give an age-appropriate explanation when they asked. I never gave them what they wanted in response to begging, whining, tantrums etc.: I explained that those behaviors made me even more unwilling to do the thing they wanted me to do. When I was not opposed to something, I would tell them, "I'd like to say yes, but if you beg (whine, etc.) I have to say no. That is not an acceptable way of getting what you want." To this day--my youngest are 14--they will come to me with a request couched in language like, "I don't want to pester you about this, but I would really like to..." Firmness and consistency do work. Oh, and all 4 of my teens hate McD's and its ilk. They have been known to express a wish for something from Starbucks since our return to the States...

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterysadora

Well, I do not think that I would let my child have a say in the decision. I do not think at their ages they are ready to make that choice. I know some people will disagree but that is how I feel. I think I would set a limit. Once a week, once every other week, once a month, once a year, etc. That way it was not a conversation whenever we saw the arches. They would know when and would not feel the need to beg regularly. Good luck and safe travels.

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterUpstatemomof3

I am a parent-to-be, so I haven't yet faced this problem, but I can say what my "feeding children guru" would say, and it would be something along the lines of "treating McDonalds as a TREAT is a bad idea!" This only encourages the children to ask for it. You can check out her blog for a whole bunch of information on topic of feeding children.


April 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRachel Clear

I would forbid it all. But that's me and that's because we're vegetarian. Although I suppose if we went there we'd have ice cream or fries for a treat but I just plain don't go. The kids know it as Old MacDonalds and never ask to eat there because they know it's a "meat restaurant" (their catch phrase, not mine). But if you feel as strongly about being anti-MacDonalds as I do then you can come up with your own ideas as to why they can't go. And since your kids are the very same age as mine I am expecting that that will be fine with them. Okay, I'm assuming. Only you will know. :)

April 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMelodie

I'd just say, yeah, it's a restaurant. We'll probably go sometime, but it's pretty unhealthy so it won't be often. I wouldn't frame it in terms of a "treat", because I wouldn't want to teach my kid that rewards are something bad for you, KWIM? I'd rather have them think, yeah, I can have it but not often, because it's just not good for me.

April 14, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterzchamu

Like others have said, I would find out why they want to go. We don't eat out nearly as much as we used to. If we have the money and we are out, and the girls ask we'll take them. They like the play area, getting the happy meal, all that jazz.
I think if you completely forbid it, they may really get upset and that's when the tantrums can start. I say this all of the time, and you already know this, but children don't see things the same way we do.
I don't think letting them have McD's a few times while your in Berlin will damage them forever.
Just let them know ahead of time that sometimes the answer will be yes, and others it will be no.

April 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDarcel

First, what a big list of fascinating posts...can't wait to read them!

On to your question. Keep in mind I'm a vegetarian...but my husband and kids are not.

My 3.5 yo dd thinks "Old McDonald's" is the place where you stop to pee on long car trips. So, take my advice for what it is worth.

I would avoid making it a treat. We made that mistake with candy when she was potty training and then I had to dial back from that without making it seem like a punishment.

What I would suggest is to find out what they like about McDonalds and see if you can find that at a better place...is it the desserts? the fries? the plastic toys? the novelty? the playgrounds? something else?

Maybe you can find that thing in a more acceptable place or in a more acceptable way and offer that to them as a once in a while treat...like get a cardboard "happy meal" style box and put different fast food fries in it along with a fruit salad and a toy and have a picnic. Or something like that.

I don't think at this age they are ready to make responsible choices about which restaurants to patronize. So, rather than just forbid it, I would frame it as a choice between two acceptable options rather than focus on your elimination of McDonald's.

April 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCandace

I would just say no and explain why.

We pass one everyday and its not an issue. They go to restaurants etc and appreciate good food so once I explained they understood. (They are now 7.5 and 5)

If they got taken sometime by a friend then I wouldn't be worried but I won't spend our family money on it and they don't yet have pocket money of their own.

April 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEmma

Are you going to Berlin? Lucky you!
Well I think I agree with practically everyone else - just ignore McDo. There are certainly also a number of other options similarly to ignore - Doner Kebab joints, Currywurst (and every other kind of Wurst), many of which are frequently within nostril's range. Luckily the other half of the German population is as passionately opposed to these options as one half seems to be addicted to them. Thus organic and healthy food options are also all over the place, and moral support shouldn't be hard to come by. Most Berliners try hard to be as non-conformist as possible and will welcome you with open arms. It is in any case possibly the most truly tolerant place on the planet - certainly up there with the best of them.
Ich liebe Berlin! Oh wow, I could go on for ages....

April 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSean

My husband and my girls (aged 3 and 5) are vegetarian. My husband has spoken to them about vegetarianism and specifically McDonalds' from a very early age. If we pass by a McDonalds', my 3YO yells out, "There's McDonalds'!", the same way my 5YO used to at her age. I ask her if she wants to go there. "No!", is her response. I ask her, "Why not?", and her response is, "Because it isn't healthy." It is never too early to explain the "whys" to them. They have never wavered on this EVER.

April 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterWendy Armbruster Bell

Forgive me if this has been said before. I have not read all the replies.

I would definitely not forbid it. Not too far in the future, they will be adults and they will be making their own choices. Forbidding it now may cause them to overreact and binge in the future.

If they wanted to go, I'd go occasionally. All things in moderation, right? Explain why you don't like going there, go occasionally. I see no reason not to make it a special treat. Chocolate cake is not often served in our house, but it can be a special treat. McD can be the same.

We got to McD 4-5 times a year. Sometimes when traveling. It's part of life, but only in moderation.

April 16, 2010 | Unregistered Commentersara

I just tell my daughters that I don´t like the food there and that I´m not going to spend my money there, and then I give them other options of places they like and that I also like. We most of the time choose a non-fast food restaurant but there have been times that they ask for a fast food restaurant and again we give them options, but McD is never an option.

April 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterErica

I love this!!!

April 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPaula

If you don't want it in your life, don't even open the door to it. They can pitch a fit until they are blue in the face, but it gets no change in mommy. No is no.
This comes from my experience with my first born, a precocious 5 year old and a classic strong willed child.

April 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDWest

Just don't go!! I won't even call what McD serves food, it is not. It is highly processed GMO toxins that you would be putting in you body. Yuk! My three years can read food labels and understands why we don't eat those kinds of foods b/c they are bad for our bodies. Kids are really smart, don't underestimate their capacity to understand. Don't call it a "treat", treats in our house are fresh organic strawberries, organic in season asparagus, etc. In the US we set our kids up to fail miserably when it comes to food choices and taking charge of our health. I don't like what McD stands for on all other levels, the McDonald Brothers have brought this country to its knees and has destroyed our food system. What Food, Inc and believe me, you will never want to eat another fast food burger again.

April 26, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermegan

I have to say, in my early twenties, I LIVED off McD's. I loved it. And I was skinny. I moved to the UK, change of scene, change of life and hardly ever had any. Then one day I tried some again and I realised how gross it actually is! I don't actually recal the last time I had McD's now. Perhaps they actually just wont like it if they do try it? But to be honest, I agree with the others. You are the parent, you work for the money (or your husband does) and you say no, so no. I guess, however, that if that doesn't work, I'd make it an option - we can go to mcD or to the zoo. We can go to McD or the park. Then they have the choice. Good luck! Would be interesting to hear how it turns out!

May 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLuschka

I thought I'd update everyone on the situation. The McDonalds is there. It has a huge playground. My kids have asked to go to play and to eat. The first time they asked, I said "no, we don't go to McDonald's, it's junk". They asked a few more times and I just repeated it. Since then, they haven't been begging. So the begging (about that at least!) is resolved and at a later point I can teach them more about the ethical and other reasons we choose not to go there (too much for their brains at this age).

We have, however, found a great alternative for those times when we do want to have some fast food. There is a local very authentic and delicious burger spot called "http://www.qype.fr/place/14918-Burgermeister-Berlin/photos/494966" rel="nofollow">Burgermeister". It isn't a chain or anything - just a locally owned and operated shop a block away from here. Their prices are better than McDonald's, it tastes better, their ingredients are better, and I feel better about eating there. It isn't a spot I would take the kids every day for nutritional reasons, but on occasion it is the burger joint of choice.

May 3, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

[...] that doesn’t mean that I am running out to buy Abbott Labs products (the maker of Similac), McDonalds and KFC, Coke and Pepsi, and other unealthy or unethical products. In fact, the more I learn about [...]

[...] we were moving to Berlin last year, some of you may remember that I was concerned when I learned there would be a McDonald’s about one block from our apartment. In the end, it wasn’t an issue at all. The kids asked a few times if we could go there, I [...]

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