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
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.
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!
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
- 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:
- Leanna from All Done Monkey brings you her winning Healthy Homemade French Fries.
- Bekka over at Just for Daisy shares a healthy smoothie/ice cream option.
- Anna from Kids Play Space has contributed Healthy Homemade Takeaway Chicken (a post which also shows how kids can be involved in the cooking process)
- Finally, if it’s a healthy snack your are after, Kara at ALLterNATIVE learning has some Healthy Holiday Snacks – Dehydrated Fruit!
Be sure to check them out!!