The Kids’ Meal Compromise

    While some fight over what to do with kids’ meals, Roy suggests there are compromises to look into.

    Recently I was talking with Barry Klein, an old friend of mine who was one of the original advertising guys at McDonald’s. He is a marketing consultant now with a large interest in kids marketing. We were discussing the kids’ meal situation and the critics who claim these meals are responsible for our childhood obesity problems.

    Barry has a heated position that I would like to share with you, and then I’ll share my comments as well.

    Barry: Restaurant operators, which way will you go?

    Are you going to offer what children really want in kids’ meals, or will you cave to those who want you to shove different food at kids, much of which they leave on the table?

    Choices means a variety of options that let parents select what they will allow their child to have, and that means keeping the items that they want.

    Fries have been diminished or completely eliminated. Ingredients that make the food taste good have been taken away. Just enough salt and flavoring have been extracted to make food totally bland. Kids’ meals now abound with veggies, apples, and yogurt. But will the kids really eat it?

    This year, the Los Angeles school system changed its lunch menu to “healthier” offerings. Recently, the administration realized that sales of lunches had dropped to alarming levels, because students simply weren’t buying them. While watching a pair of high school kids share a bag of Cheetos and a soft drink, a reporter was told that they didn’t buy lunch at school because the food on the new menu was not only tasteless, but a waste of money. One said, “I’m eating more junk food now than ever before.” The outcome is another new menu coming to the schools.

    The same results are probably being recorded at restaurants, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the ones that took away the good stuff and substituted bland, boring food are selling fewer kids’ meals. If anyone is collecting the information that will truly measure the impact of these changes, I wonder if it will it be kept under wraps in fear of negative publicity.

    Yes, there is a lot of pressure. But it comes from a few vociferous, nosy busybodies who derive a great deal of satisfaction from trying to interfere in other people’s lives. Unfortunately, it is these self-appointed guardians of our welfare who are quoted, voicing their own opinions about how the rest of us should behave. Every time a business changes the way they operate because of these pronouncements, it strengthens their resolve to direct our lives. The effort to maintain a clean, uncontroversial image and protect it from damaging publicity becomes more difficult every day, as more people join those who live for disruption and interference.

    If restaurant people continue to back away from serving food that people want to eat, the business could suffer considerably. Restaurants that offer the familiar, tasty kids’ meals will eventually abandon those so-called “healthy” alternatives, because they aren’t nearly as satisfying and don’t have the taste. Go back to the kids’ menu you had before, and watch your family business grow.

    Roy: Well, Barry, we certainly know where you stand. But I think a little compromise could be in order or we might not get anything done, sort of like with our federal government.

    For one thing, I think kids’ meals should be a la carte, not dictated by the restaurant. Choose one entrée, one side, and one drink. If you want apples instead of french fries, fine, you choose. Portion size dictates pricing. Problem solved, the kid and the parents choose.

    Get rid of the toys. Instead, make the packaging really cool, with puzzles and games, or maybe the package even turns into something the kids can take outside and run around with. The toy seems to be causing the problem, so get rid of it. Without a toy, you could lower the cost of the meal by the price of the toy. Some stores are even allowing the parent to buy the toy or set of toys without the food.

    Instead of toys, collect proof of purchase points from the package redeemable for books, jump ropes, or Crayons. Or the points can go to the school and are redeemed for cash at the end of the program.

    Work on reducing the fat and calories in the kids’ meal food. McDonald’s had a 93 percent fat-free patty at one time. Unfortunately, it tasted like the package it came in. But that was a long time ago, and I’m sure we could do better now. It’s the same story for the bun.

    Have some fun with nutrition education. Construct a website where the kid can type in the food he eats and see the nutrition information. Make a game out of knowing the value of what he is eating.

    Two things have been proposed in the public arena that I would not do. I would not agree to a set percentage of advertising for kids’ meals based on sales. That is Big Brother at his finest. No company should be restricted or governed on how it spends its advertising dollar.

    Others have said no advertising for kids’ meals, just store signage. Ditto on Big Brother.

    I think there are some actions we can take to calm everyone down. I agree with Barry that a lot of what’s going on is grandstanding for some personal cause. But I do think restaurants have a responsibility to make it easy for parents to have a choice when it comes to healthy food, and my a la cart solution fits the requirement.

    But it all comes down to one simple thing: The kid can’t get to a restaurant on his own, his mom or dad has to take him. Parents have to say no and stick to it. No kid should be eating kids’ meals every day, I don’t care what the food choices are.

    Thanks, Barry, for your thoughts. I just think there are some actions that can be accomplished so government is not taking toys away from kids. Let’s try a little compromise.

    Happy Trails, and a Peaceful Life.