San Francisco Bans Toys from Happy Meals

Get healthy or get rid of your toys, says city

It’s a sad day for McDonald’s Happy Meals -- at least in San Francisco. On Thursday, the city’s board of supervisors voted to ban restaurants from giving away toys with kids’ meals that are loaded with calories, fat or sodium. They are the first city to pass such a law, which, legislators say, is in part an effort to help clamp down on childhood obesity.

Come December, when the law goes into effect, McDonald’s and other fast-food chains will have to meet certain nutritional requirements if they want to continue to provide free toys to kids. The meals must have no more than 600 calories, with no single item containing more than 200 calories or 480 milligrams of sodium. No more than 35 percent of the meal’s calories can come from fat, with no more than 10 percent from saturated fat. Trans fat must be limited to half a gram, and the meal must contain a serving of fruit and vegetables.

When we downloaded the nutritional information from the McDonald’s web site, we found few things on the McDonald’s menu that meet these criteria. For instance, a Mickey D’s hamburger has 250 calories and 520 mg of sodium. And only a handful of items (not counting packets of condiments) have fewer than 200 calories. Some of these include the four-piece Chicken McNuggets, a couple of salads without the chicken, the Fruit ’n Yogurt Parfait, kiddie and adult ice cream cones and Apple Dippers with caramel sauce.

“We are extremely disappointed with today’s decision. It’s not what our customers want, nor is it something they asked for,” McDonald’s spokeswoman Danya Proud said in a statement.

So are people in San Francisco happy about it? The city’s paper, the San Francisco Chronicle, posted an online poll asking readers what they thought about it. At the time this article was written, 1,778 people had voted. One-quarter of respondents agreed with the law, saying it will force fast-food joints to serve healthier food to kids. Sixty-five percent said they disagreed and called it “another nanny-state rule.” The rest chose the response, “Up next: Cracker Jack toys.”

That does raise a good point about where these laws might be going next. I know that as a kid I chose my cereal in part based on what surprise was inside -- and none of those cereals were particularly low in sugar or high in nutrients.

But that doesn’t mean I agree with the law. McDonald’s can, after all, just stop giving out toys, or find clever ways around the rules by packaging the hamburger patty separately from the bun.

McDonald’s does offer healthier options on the menu -- most of which are their worst sellers and not because they don’t come with toys. Kids like the taste of French fries and burgers just like their parents do, which is why mom and dad pull into these restaurants to begin with. If you don’t want your kids eating junky food, isn’t it easier to go to fast-food chains that offer healthier options? Kids like to eat what they see their parents eating. They learn by example. If you’re not ordering the grilled chicken sandwich or salad, can you really complain about how a toy is influencing your child?

Still, I am curious to find out what happens when McDonald’s and other restaurants stop supplying toys with their most popular menu items. Surely the sales of Happy Meals won’t go down. In fact, I think McDonald’s should take this opportunity to conduct a little experiment on just how influential these toys really are by giving them out with the purchase of any salad. Then we’ll get to see just how much kids really clamor for them.

Agree, disagree, don’t care? What’s your take on San Francisco’s decision to ban Happy Meal toys? Chime in below!

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