I remember once every few months, growing up, my parents would treat us to a trip to McDonalds for hamburgers, fries and chocolate shakes. We didn’t go often; my mother home cooked most of our meals. It was the 1960’s and eating out was a novelty. You had expensive restaurants, breakfast restaurants, the neighborhood pizza parlor and McDonalds which were not on every block as they are today. With a family of two adults and four children, that left pizza or McDonalds for the occasional treat for dinner.
I was a picky eater and so was my mother, in those days at McDonalds if you had a special order, it was a big deal. Don’t ask me why, but I used to eat plain hamburgers with pickles only (really?) and my mother, plain cheeseburgers. We would order and wait− and wait. The people behind us were never very happy about our special requests slowing up their orders. Sorry about that.
Fast forward to my trip downtown Chicago to a special Mothers Nutrition and Wellness Workshop sponsored by McDonalds. I was invited to attend, as a member of the blogging/media community they were trying to reach. It was held at the Rock ‘n Roll McDonalds, which can serve 300 patrons and is one of the busiest McDonalds locations. It commemorates their 50th Anniversary in business. Looking around, its sleek look and leather seating certainly didn’t resemble the McDonalds Restaurants I grew up with.
We were given a free lunch, a swag bag with gift card, coupons and pedometer, to name a few of the items used, to entice us to attend, on this very rainy Thursday afternoon. It was moderated by a nutritionist for McDonalds, Sylvia Melendez-Klinger, who detailed their efforts to supply healthier alternatives for children and adults.
Sylvia introduced their new products that contain fresh blueberries, passing out samples of their new Blueberry Banana Nut Oatmeal. We were supplied with nutritional information on all of their products, asked to guess how many cups of vegetables are in their Premium Salad (3 cups) and given options for substitutes such as blueberries instead of fries. McDonalds also now offers a smaller size fry and apple slices in every Happy Meal. Sylvia and her presentation team explained how you can ask for no salt on your fries or no seasoning on your hamburger, substitute a whole grain bun instead of the regular bun, go light on the sauce or mayo or ask for it “on the side.” To cut down on sugar they suggested substituting plain oatmeal with a side of blueberries and to keep your salad on the light side, ask for grilled instead of crispy chicken, low-fat dressing, using only half the packet. Fat-free chocolate milk and 100% apple juice are also available. Special orders; they promised would be made to order quickly, and with a smile.
The reason for this effort and media campaign, In part is due to the backlash aimed at fast-food giants such as McDonalds because of the recent, alarming statistics that are surfacing about the rise in obesity in America. The CDC reports that percentages of overweight children and adolescents in the U.S. have nearly tripled since the early 1970’s. More than one in five children has been linked to diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety and poor academic performance. The National Institute of Health in 2004 cited a study by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute published in January, 2004. It reported, “Young adults who eat frequently at fast-food restaurants gain more weight and have a greater increase in insulin resistance in early middle age. Gina Wei, MD, Project Officer for CORDIA (Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults) stated in their report, “It is important to watch what you eat. Knowing the nutritional content is important. Salads and grilled foods tend to be lower in fat than fried foods.”
Laughter seemed to be the reaction I got from everyone who found out I went to a nutrition workshop at McDonalds. I was skeptical too and my guard was up because McDonalds has never been associated with healthy food and eating. In spite of this stereo-type and past history, they do seem to have made an effort to react to the demands of consumer groups who want healthier alternatives offered besides the hamburgers, fries and shakes they are famous for.
Their media campaign including these workshops is ramping up. I hope it does inspire some to eat healthier alternatives offered on their menu, if they are regular eaters at McDonalds, because the days of eating out once every few months are over. We now live in a fast-paced busy world that wants “instant” and “fast” food. What is evolving is that, healthy options are starting to be demanded and food industry icons such as McDonalds know they need to respond because it’s good for business. Although it is much easier to order a #1 with a soda, with a little extra work, you can find healthier alternatives on the menu. The next step in their effort should be to combine healthy alternatives into one easy “I’ll have a #7 on your healthy menu, please.”
You want nutritional information? Yes, there’s even an app for that, or go to McDonalds.com. No matter what you eat or where you eat out, the old adage: “Everything in Moderation,” is still good advice.
What do you think about healthier eating options at fast-food restaurants? I would love to hear your comments.