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A Healthier Meal is a Happier Meal

Posted by Emily Frost, Communications & Programs Intern.

The Golden Arches. Perhaps even more so than our flag, Lady Liberty, or the amorphous “Land of Opportunity”, these arches are the iconic representation of America.

If you’re anything like me, you delighted in trips to McDonald’s as a child largely because of the promise of the Happy Meal, featuring the toy inside that magical box of joy. I collected, coveted, and loved those cheap pieces of plastic. They were a part of my childhood culture. They may soon be a thing of the past—not just my own, but America’s.

The hottest food news sweeping the nation from our western shores has people in a tizzy about the state of the Happy Meal after the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance that effectively kills the McDonald’s Happy Meal.

Joe Eskenazi of the San Francisco Weekly perhaps puts it best when he wrote: 

It seems the San Francisco Board of Supervisors has accomplished what the Hamburglar never could. They’ve made off with McDonald’s fare.

But is the death of the Happy Meal really something to be mourned?

One of the board members who voted to increase demands for meals that include toys shares his reasoning in the Los Angeles Times:

“We’re part of a movement that is moving forward an agenda of food justice,” said Supervisor Eric Mar, who sponsored the measure. “From San Francisco to New York City, the epidemic of childhood obesity in this country is making our kids sick, particularly kids from low income neighborhoods, at an alarming rate. It’s a survival issue and a day-to-day issue.”

Take a look at what the ordinance actually asks for here:

  • Calories cannot exceed 600.
  • Sodium cannot exceed 650 milligrams.
  • Fat cannot exceed 35 percent of total calories, with less than 10 percent coming from saturated fats (some exceptions).
  • Meals must include fruits or vegetables.

Seems reasonable.

And in fact, the Happy Meal is probably not dead—just reinventing itself to accommodate these healthier demands. In a time when childhood obesity is on the rise and this generation has a life expectation less than our own because of it, can we really afford NOT to demand more from the food industry? The San Francisco Supervisors have let us know what they think in their clear 8-3 majority vote last Tuesday. writer Josh Ozersky offers his opinion on how this will impact the food industry:

The problem with the San Francisco approach is not that it won’t work — it probably will. If you are trying to keep kids from eating big, fattening meals, so as not to become big and fat themselves, arm-twisting McDonald’s into making its Happy Meals less caloric is one means by which to do so.

Another means of ensuring a healthy AND happy meal future for our children is through education. At Denver Urban Gardens we’re doing this through supporting 25+ school gardens, allowing kids the opportunityGenerations connect while learning first hand the joys of gardening and the goodness of fresh, local food. to get their hands dirty and experience a growing season as well as take valuable vegetables home to family. Our philosophy incorporates a cross-generational approach through our “Connecting Generations” program as we work to empower students to make informed and intelligent food choices. We value nutrition education and ultimately believe that the intrinsic benefits of community gardening and empowerment to make smart food choices are worth more than any toy.

Read more about our School Garden & Nutrition Education programs here.