Conspiracy Against Your Toddler? A view of McDonald’s Happy Meal

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mash: health / family / foodie


McDonald's Happy Meals a conspiracy?Baby Mash is 1 year old and he has yet to taste McDonald’s. I hope it will be a long time before he ever does. He does, however, own a McDonald’s Happy Meal toy. One of the workers gave him one when we were at a McDonald’s in Walmart. *shivers at the combination* It’s a rock monster that lights up.


He hates the thing, but is completely possessive of it. I believe I’ve stepped on it at least twice today. This does not bode well for our family as a collective. Why? Because we’re the kind of nerds that collect. In the back of some women’s closets there are boxes of shoes stacked high. In the back of mine? Crates of comics I collected while in college. (They are my comics and I’m not giving them away. :-p) In Mr. Mashed Up’s draws? Every state and landmark coin minted over the last few years. (They are his and he isn’t going to spend them.) I’m starting to see where my son gets this obsessive streak from.


McDonald’s is the world’s biggest distributor of toys at well over 1 billion toys per year. There are clubs dedicated to the buying, selling, and trading of McDonald’s happy meal toys. I’m not one to judge–the Mashed Up household already has two coin collections, a big comic collection, and a set of hurricane glasses that grows every time we purchase a “Hoochie Coochie” at B.B. Kings Blues Club. (It’s delicious. You really must order one if you go there.)


But adding a collection of McDonald’s Happy Meal toys? That’s too much! Unless he is going to collect it to make a profit, like the kid from the UK who sold his collection for £8,000, this isn’t a hobby I can support. It isn’t just the finance of it, though McDonald’s can get pretty expensive. It’s the long term cost of healthcare that worry me.


To get that toy we’re probably going to dig into a Happy Meal that 37% the daily sodium intake, 31% the daily fat intake, and 40% the daily saturated fat intake (based on a meal of a cheeseburger, fries, apple slices, and milk). I don’t believe that a Happy Meal once and a while isn’t a problem. However, McDonald’s has spent millions of dollars figuring out how to get customers addicted.


Some industrial psychologist suggest that the design of the “golden arches” is based on a church steeple. The idea behind the thoughtful logo design that as it is seen every few miles on highways across the country, American would flock to the restaurant like they flocked to church–at least like in years past. They artfully planned store locations, ad campaigns, and building architecture all to draw in adults.


Children have to have the mental freedom to be who they want, and what they want. McDonald’s Happy Meal toys, as many children’s toys today to, tend to constrain the imagination.


They spend just as much time, if not more, focused on children. From those playgrounds with their brightly colored apparatus of fun, to the child-eye-level displays of happy meal toys, much thought has been put into making kids love McDonald’s. The result is sublet, but there if you pay attention you’ll notice it. You’ve probably overheard a child who was out in the street and was hungry not ask their parent for “something” to eat, but rather specifically ask for “McDonald’s”.


That’s brand-loyalty at a tender age. And the brand loyalty of the next generation is the salvation of all big businesses. And if left unchecked, a loyal child, hooked on happy meals and their toys, might be going to the restaurant more than occasionally–something most doctors and nutritionist would frown upon.


Also, from another point of view, there is little educational value to Happy Meal toys. Yes, yes, kids should be kids, and play. However, early childhood development experts will tell you that playing is serious business. According to The National Association for the Education of Young Children, “If you want to develop children’s physical, cognitive, academic, musical, and artistic skills toys that are not strongly gender-typed are more likely to do this.” This wouldn’t fall in line with McDonald’s, who tends to look at your child and give them gender-specific toys. cites several research results that indicate that “Play is vital to children’s social development.” As children get older, free imaginative play is important. When kids use their imagination they strengthen their social, emotional, language, and thinking skills. The key though, is “free” play. Children have to have the mental freedom to be who they want, and what they want. McDonald’s Happy Meal toys, as many children’s toys today to, tend to constrain the imagination. Give the child a rock monster, and guess what? They will pretend to be exactly that–a rock monster.


I know that in reality Baby Mash will probably eat McDonald’s occasion. I actually have not problem with it on occasion. He has grandparents that think Happy Meals are a rite-of-passage. And if I said I never eat there, I’d be lying (as Jim Gaffigan would call me on). However, as the saying goes “To be forewarned is to be forearmed.” There are proactive steps that can be taken since we notice the trend. We’d much prefer him to collect something more benign than Happy Meal toys–like firecrackers. Just saying’.

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  • Robin Rue

    McDonald’s toys are way better than any other fast food joint if you ask me.

  • Eileen

    I think as long as he doesn’t have it too often it should be fine. I think it’s a struggle all good parents have. Thanks for sharing.

  • Brandy

    I don’t mind McDonalds or their toys, I don’t mind if my kids have McDonald’s on occasion either, but I do feel it’s a challenge to try to drive past those arches without having a child see them. Thank Goodness mine are older and don’t yearn for that anymore, not as much as they begged as a child. Great read, I do appreciate the info in it!

  • Nina Say

    All my life I’ve thought the MCD toys were crap. But they’re still fun. My kids get excited over them for ten minutes or so.

  • Kung Phoo

    We cannot eat McDonalds.. it gets our family sick.. the toys are junk, but the kids do like them and suffer to get them.

  • Tanya Coffman

    oh my gosh, I hate most fast food chains. Especially after watching Food, Inc. It really opened my eyes to label reading. Then my husband became an engineer designing the conveyor belts used in the plants our chicken nuggets come from. I can not tell you about the pictures and stories he brings home. But I can say, we RARELY eat processed anything anymore because of it!

  • Carra D

    I think as long as parents don’t give in and take the kids there all the time there shouldn’t be a problem. I usually get happy meals if I do eat at McDonald’s because it’s the perfect portion for me and I don’t drink soda and like the Apple juice option lol. I did go get happy meals when they had wizard of oz toys a few years ago.

  • Shanéy Vijendranath

    Interesting post, it’s something similar to coke (planning a post soon on them). We stopped eating Mac D awhile back, hubby isn’t a fan.

  • Kori

    As my mom always tells me, one of my first words was McDonalds… I don’t want that happening with my youngest.

  • Vidya Sudarsan

    I don’t go into fast foods unless we are on a long road trip…

  • mail4rosey

    When we lived in FL they had those big ball pit play rooms. We’d go and order for the kids just so they could play there afterwards. I suppose it is brilliant marketing. We don’t have the playrooms where we live now.

  • Ann Bacciaglia

    I think it is smart to keep him from eating fast food while he is little. Like you said occasionally when he gets older is not to bad.

  • Stephanie Lee

    I have nothing against any fast food chains but i really think they’re serving an unhealthy food which is not good for our health.

  • Melissa Smith

    I do have to say that I’m glad McDonalds has lessened the portion of fries & included the option of apple slices or yogurt in with their Happy Meals. I know it’s not much, but maybe they’ll continue on the right track.

  • hannah staveley

    We only go on the very rare occasion but would rather eat at healthier places.

  • HilLesha O’Nan

    I’m not into fast food at all. Not only it’s mostly junk, but I’m a strict vegetarian. Therefore, I hate that my MIL takes my daughter to McDonald’s whenever she’s babysitting her. Now, my husband and I hardly can pass a McDonald’s without my daughter wanting a burger and french fries. :(

  • Motivating Mommy

    I know that I told my son that superheros don’t eat McDonalds because it makes them slow. We do go for the apple pies but beyond that we steer clear.

  • Carly Anderson

    Wow, I had no idea that the Happy Meal toys were such huge deals with groups. I think it is interesting the psychology that goes behind trying to get us addicted to fast food.

  • yonawilliams

    Ugg…McDonald’s really does have a gravitational pull on the kiddies. Great post! There needs to some alternative that offers kids the same appeal, but in a healthier way.

  • Terri Ramsey Beavers

    Thanks so much for sharing. We don’t tend to eat fast food very often but when we do, we order salads.

  • Erica Bodker

    We stopped eating fast food a long time ago due to budget cuts. I will say that I have lost a few lbs by doing so. I do have to say that McDonalds does do a lot of good for the community or needy families though.

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