photo credit: puuikibeach on flickr
As a child my family’s menu consisted of two choices:
take it or leave it.
Bans on including toys with fast-food kids’ meals have been passed in San Francisco and are being considered in other places— most notably New York.
I whole-heartedly support these bans, which has people accusing me of being the Fun Miser and sucking all the joy out of childhood. Adults, mind. Parents. My kids don’t seem to care a whole lot, probably because fast food is a treat in and of itself for them.
I think that part of the problem is a nostalgia thing. We had better quality items to choose from, and there was a much stronger collectible element. I mean, really, I know some people who STILL have those toys and glasses from our childhood.
Look. I don’t like bribing my kids with (crappy, cheap, plastic) toys (that just create clutter and aren’t much fun anyways) to eat crappy food. You know? “No, you can’t have this super-villian whose arm hilariously goes up and down when you push a button until you finish your chicken nuggets and ALL your fries.”
A recent study tested whether the kid-centric appeal of collectable toys would sway little ones to choose healthy meal options… and guess what? A bribe’s a bribe, it works both ways. The kids in question were of that picky-eating, difficult-to-reason-with age group of 2 through 5, and
“the inclusion of a collectible toy influences the children’s perceptions of how the food is going to taste, and whether they will like it,” said Cornwell, a professor of marketing in the University of Oregon Lundquist College of Business. “What was interesting to us — even more than we expected — was that the presence of the collectible toy moved the healthier food option up to the point that it was just as likable as the fast-food offering.”
Brief related story. We went to Disney World last summer and while we didn’t opt for the dining plan, we did have Maverick and Cass ordering from the kids’ menu. On day 3, Mav basically had a meltdown in the French restaurant we were ordering in, in Epcot. Why? Because Mav is our resident foodie, and he’d been uncomplainingly subsisting on the kid offerings of: chicken fingers, spaghetti with red sauce (Mav prefers a little butter, garlic & Parmesan), mac and cheese that looks suspiciously like it came out of a box, hot dog, cheeseburger or cheese pizza. Served on the same Mickey Mouse plate, with vanilla ice cream for dessert, in every place we ate. And he correctly, justifiably cracked, wailing, “Why would I want a cheeseburger in a French restaurant?”
Why indeed. (And lords-a-mercy, I still feel guilty. I’m sorry Maverick! Next time I’m being completely oblivious PLEASE tell me right away!) If ever there was a place that’s perfectly positioned to encourage kids to try new things, I would think it would be the most magical place on earth, right?
It seems to me like fast food restaurants, and Walt Disney World for sure, have a wonderful opportunity here. Why not shift your business model and offer truly healthy foods that aren’t bland and boring, and incentivize kids to eat them by offering collectible toys along with them?
I mean, you offer salads and whatnot to the adults, right? You want to be seen as having healthy options?
Do you have any idea how much happier that would make parents? The guilt that would lift?
It would only work if you take away the crap meals, of course, because any kid is still going to opt for those if it’s available. If a parent really wants to treat their kid to a cheeseburger they can just order off the adult menu.
But then people like me wouldn’t be so rabidly anti-fast food. And people who eat fast-food regularly wouldn’t be potentially condemning their kids to a childhood of being teased for being overweight and an adulthood of being treated for weight-related health issues.
73 percent of the participating parents reported that they would be OK with such an approach, whereas, 92 percent were strongly against the use of collectible toys with traditional, less-healthy fast-food meals.
What say you, fast food?
How about you?
Where do you stand on the whole toys-with-meals issue?