The day I gave my kids McDonald’s

best fast food for kids

Funny how things work out. One night last week, I worked my butt off in the kitchen for hours making fast food then, just a few days later, found myself seeking out the golden arches for an emergency feed.

Love it or hate it, no-one can deny that there is a time and a place for McDonald’s. As one friend commented, “It’s always there when you need it.” In other words, no matter what chaos has led you to the point of eating food that doesn’t decompose,  there will be a Maccas not too far away.

I won’t elaborate on the circumstances that led me to put down all my principles about junk food, additives, ethical eating and sustainability. Suffice to say they were extenuating. My options were this:

  • Keep driving and endure the bleating from the back seat and hope they fell asleep without dinner.
  • Feed the kids a dry-looking sausage roll that was microwaved in plastic from the servo.
  • Give them KFC.
  • Choose a Happy Meal in desperate hope it lived up to its name.

Obviously, I went for the last option for Mr almost-four. I got a salad, which was revolting but filling. Edith sucked a small serve of chips. The Happy Meal lived up to its name, which was a real kick in the guts. Not because my son doesn’t have superior taste, because we all know Maccas spends a gazillion dollars making their food appeal to children, but because just a few nights earlier, my kids had turned their little noses up at my attempts to replicate McDonald’s cheeseburger and chips.

Homemade Happy Meal

mcDonalds at home 2

First things first, let me give respect to every spotty teenager that has flipped burgers in the face of a hungry footie team or, worse, a gang of drunk schoolgirls. I got myself in a right tizz with my organic buns made from scratch and trying to assemble the mini burgers while not burning the house down and, more importantly, the chips.

Anyway, as far as experiments go, it was a fail. The kids flung the patty aside, licked the tomato sauce off the bun and devoured the chips. I did learn a few things, though:

  • My son will eat homemade chips so long so they’re deep fried (he rejects my oven chips).
  • A plastic scone cutter is not the best tool for making uniform round beef patties.
  • The patties shrink in circumference and swell in thickness while cooking (is there a food additive to fix that?).
  • Don’t talk on your mobile phone while cooking buns or you’ll over-do them (I think this is actually in the Maccas training manual…).
  • Attempting to replicate McDonald’s is ultimately pointless seeing as my kids never (ok, once a year) eat it therefore don’t know what they are missing out on.

Perhaps I am being too hard on myself. If nothing else, it gave me a chance to compare the ingredients used in McDonald’s food and what I can make at home. Almost all my ingredients were organic, so I didn’t dare do a cost comparison!

McDonald’s cheeseburger & chips

My cheeseburger & chips

BUN: Wheat flour, water, yeast, sugar, vegetable oil (canola), iodised salt, gluten, soy flour, preservative (282), emulsifiers (471, 472e, 481), malt flour, mineral salt (170), antioxidant (300, 304, 307, 330), enzyme (1100), vitamin (thiamine, folate).PATTY: Beef (100%)CHEESE: Cheese (milk, salt, starter cultures, enzyme (rennet)), milk solids, butter, emulsifiers (340, 452, 331), salt, acidity regulators (260, 330, 339), colours (160c, 160c), preservative (200), soy lecithin).KETCHUP: Water, tomato paste, high fructose corn syrup, glucose syrup, vinegar, salt, (preservatives (202, 211), flavour.

ONION: Water, dehydrated white onion.

MUSTARD: Water, vinegar, mustard seed, salt, colour (100), spice, flavour.

CHIPS*: Potato, canola oil & sunflower oil, dextrose, mineral salt (450), antioxidant.

*Alternate chips ingredients: potato, canola oil blend, antioxidant (320), food acid (330), antifoam (900a), dextrose.


BUN: Wheat flour, water, sugar, yeast, butter, milk.PATTY: Beef, sage, oregano, stock cube (sea salt, palm oil, onions, carrots, leek, onions, maize starch, raw cane sugar, parsley, lovage leaves, garlic, curcuma, nutmeg, pepper.CHEESE: Pasteurised Milk, Salt, Starter Cultures, Non-animal Rennet, Non-animal Lipase.KETCHUP: Tomato puree, cane sugar, vinegar, sea salt, onion powder, oils of cloves, cassia and celery, garlic powder, cayenne.

ONION: Onion.

MUSTARD: Water, Organic Mustard Seeds, vinegar, Sea Salt.

CHIPS: Potatoes, canola oil, salt



Dodgy ingredients in Maccas food

While McDonald’s in Australia has never used the filler dubbed “pink slime” and made famous by Jamie Oliver, there are plenty of ingredients to be very wary of:

  • Preservatives 282 calcium propionate, 202 potassium sorbate, 211 sodium benzoate are all listed on FedUp as additives to avoid as they are “likely to cause adverse reactions”.
  • Colour 160b Annatto extracts, bixin, norbixin is also listed as one to avoid.
  • Colour 100 Turmeric or curcumin, yellow earns a caution from FedUp.
  • High fructose corn syrup,  is linked to fatty liver and pre-diabetes.

And what is the deal with the cheese? I am never going to eat “plastic cheese” again now I know what’s in it!

The verdict

If I can possibly avoid it, my kids won’t eat McDonald’s more than once in a blue moon. Trying to ban it outright isn’t an option because, you know what? Life happens. One observation I will make is that after our Maccas stop that night, my kids found it really hard to fall asleep. Alfie, in particular, was wired, even though it was past nine o’clock when I got him to bed.

I’ll make burgers again, but I’ll stick to my usual veggie-smuggling patties or lentil burgers, which the kids are quite happy to eat. For the record, my husband was thrilled with my attempt at a Happy Meal and says I can try again any time.

As I said at the beginning, there is a time and place for Maccas; I’m just not sure it’s childhood.

The best fast food for kids

When you’re busy and running around, it’s inevitable you’re going to end up seeking something quick and filling for the kids. That doesn’t automatically mean McDonald’s! There are always other options.

In a food court-situation, I would seek out:

  • A felafel roll with salad or, if you have a kid like mine, cheese and lots of humous.
  • Noodles. One serve usually feeds two kids.
  • Dumplings or spring rolls – talk about sneaky vegetables!
  • Chips. Just chips, preferably from somewhere that isn’t a chain.
  • A basic sandwich and a milkshake (for the “treat” factor).

When I have One Of Those Days and its 4.45 and I still don’t know what I’m giving the kids for dinner, these are my fallbacks. In my mind, this is the best fast food for kids you can get:

  • Boiled eggs and soldiers: takes a total of ten minutes.
  • Cheese on toast.
  • Fried rice with leftover rice and an emergency packet of cubed frozen veg.
  • Thin spaghetti with a super-quick sauce of fried onions and tomatoes, some herbs and loads of cheese.
  • Fish fingers with mayo and whatever vegetable matter I can scrape together (I buy Bird’s Eye because Mandy from Little People Nutrition said I should).

And when we choose bought fast food, it’s usually:

  • Fish & chips from a local shop. The kids must eat fish before they can have any chips (aren’t I mean?).
  • Sausage rolls / pies made onsite by a baker.
  • Indian entrees like bahjis and samosas.
  • Dumplings and pork buns.

Finally, we eat out often. It’s something my hubby and I love to do and we have invested a lot of energy into “cafe training” our kids! Here’s where we choose to venture with our 19mo and almost 4yo:

  • Sushi train
  • Vietnamese or Thai restaurants
  • Our gorgeous local Mediterranean restuarant
  • Italian
  • The RSL (which is code for fish & chips for the kids)

What do you think is the best fast food for kids?

My friends and I from the Sustainable Living Bloggers Community have teamed up to encourage people to think about fast food and healthy alternatives. Check out the fantastic posts below:

Be sure to check them out!!


  1. Kylie @ Octavia and Vicky says

    We love fish fingers for a last minute dinner, with oven chips. The Jamie Oliver fish fingers are a winner here, I’ve no idea if they’re any healthier? !

    My almost four year old had her first happy meal last week – ai think we did well to avoid them that long!

    • (dt)em says

      Wow, you really did do well, Kylie. Alfie was three when we gave him one. I am pleased my kids don’t know the word “mcdonalds” or recognise the golden arches.
      I haven’t tried the JO fish fingers, but I will check them out xx

  2. Bek @ Just For Daisy says

    What a fabulous post Jo!!
    We do deep fried chips here too! Haven’t tried oven chips but I imagine they may not be as popular!!
    I am pinning and bookmarking this because I love the amount of info you’ve provided! Cheers!
    PS. Our favourite kid friendly fast food is Sushi – my girls love the edamame beans and tuna/avocado sushi.
    Bek @ Just For Daisy recently posted..Want to ditch pads and tampons forever?My Profile

    • (dt)em says

      Thanks Bekka! I am green with envy about your kids eating edamame. Edith would possibly try them, but Alfie goes for all the deep fried stuff. He loves gyoza and sometimes I sneak in a vegetarian one without him noticing! x

    • (dt)em says

      That’s one of my staples, too. I look forward to the day when I don’t have to cut the veggies up so they are impossible to pick out of the rice!

    • (dt)em says

      I hadn’t thought of Mexican – tacos were a standard one-a-week meal when I was growing up. I do make chill, either with black-eyed peas or meat at least once a week and my little monkeys love it! Then again, anything with melted cheese- how could you go wrong?

  3. Amy says

    Excellent post, Jo!
    Our “quick fixes” for our 2.5yo are quite similar to yours, since both Hubby & I have never set foot inside a fast food store in the last ten years (it’s more a matter of taste before the issue with all the food additives).
    – cheese & bacon roll from Bakers Delight
    – I freeze small portions of fresh pasta & pasta sauce bought from a local shop, and quickly heat/boil them up if it’s 15 minutes before dinner and I have no idea what we’ll eat. Plus steamed veg if we have any.

    • (dt)em says

      Thanks Amy, someone somewhere along the way told me that you couldn’t freeze pasta and I have never tested the theory – I always have leftovers so I will be freezing them from now on! x

  4. Eliza says

    I haven’t eaten Maccas since 1997, so I reckon it will be unlikely that Little Fearse will ever eat it on my watch (BP is another story entirely), but I definitely understand the convenience factor. There is every chance I will cave with some other fast food chain eventually.

    Fortunately she so far loves our home made burgers and oven baked wedges. She doesn’t have a lot of experience with deep fried chips yet. She might start rejecting them soon one day and I’ll be devastated.

    BP makes Little Fearse home made chicken nuggets (with bread crumbs, fried in a pan) which she also loves. She has never had any other type of chicken nuggets to compare them to, though.

    If we get fast food it is also fish ‘n’ chips, which I always feel a little guilty about. The fish also needs to be consumed first, plus a bowl of vegies (usually peas) before she can have chips. We initially didn’t give her any chips at all, but she helped herself one night when we weren’t paying attention and then…she knew what she was missing. Bah humbug!

    I feel like such a mean Mum sometimes. I got to eat all of this stuff when I was a kid (moderately) and never had any problems with health / weight / food issues.

    Blah blah blah.
    At home ‘fast’ food: frozen peas, toast, boiled eggs, sliced gherkins, cubes of cheese, papadams, pop corn, “salsa” (usually tinned corn and cubed capsicum or something like that), bacon and eggs, smoothies, breakfast for dinner. If I’m really stretched for time or imagination a banana and an apple. Haha.

    Sorry for the long comment, but kids food is one of my favourite topics (along side any opportunity to dis Maccas :P).
    Eliza recently posted..(Messy) Fun with Little Fearse.My Profile

  5. Jonathan says

    I can understand why you went for the McDonalds, even if it kind of went against your principles. The way it is advertised seems to have put it in a place where it’s seen as aspirational or at least highly desirable to so many kids.

    I’m not a great fan of McDonalds for quite a few different reasons. Even if you look at the actual food rather than the processes of production, I don’t think it’s all that great. I’m not a big fan of the thin and really salty fries, but perhaps that’s because here in the UK we generally have a lot fatter fries (which we call ‘chips’).

    As a vegetarian, I really like falafel as a takeaway food option. I love the chain Maoz falafel and the range of salads that they offer with their falafel. When I’m in London, I’ve found that it’s possible to have a really good meal in some places in the middle of the day that isn’t much more expensive than a McDonalds meal. There’s an Indian vegetarian restaurant that I love which does a lunchtime buffet for £6.95 (about $10) which includes as many starters, main course items and desserts as you want. The food’s great quality and there are always 20-30 different options.
    Jonathan recently posted..Babies, books and bloggingMy Profile

    • (dt)em says

      We’re of to the UK to visit family later this year, I will definitely keep an eye out for Maoz Felafel, thanks for the tip!

  6. Julie - Ladybug's Spots says

    What an honest post! Sometimes with all these great blogs around you begin to think every other woman is supermum and you are the only one desperately trying to feed the kids before they eat the cat!
    I love your attempt at the MacDonalds Happy Meal (and I would def have it any night for dinner!) fortunately my daughter is not much of a hamburger fan so she’s never had it, though she has had a fair share of MacDonalds chips!
    Our go-to take out food is sushi.
    Julie – Ladybug’s Spots recently posted..DIY ‘soft serve ice cream’My Profile

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