May 25, 2008

Unhappy Meal

mcd_boytoys.jpg

This photo at Consumerist of a funny sign at McDonald's reminded me of the kid's own discovery of the secret of Happy Meals.

Personally, I was just going for the pies, but I couldn't very well just eat pies in front of the kid, so I'd get her a Happy Meal. And by not ever telling her it came with a toy, I could thwart the marketers trying to circumvent my parental authority with their, "I want Speed Racer! Take me to McDonald's!" toy ploys.

And it actually worked for several months. I got my limited-time-only pies--pumpkin, holiday custard, cherry--and I got to feel good about the kid finally eating meat, or at least McNuggets.

Then one day at lunch, some other dad and his two kids, who were older, maybe 4 and 5, sat down in the booth right next to us. My kid was was immediately distracted, and with their underdeveloped sense of urban personal space, the three kids were soon talking amongst themselves.

So when they started playing with their Happy Meal toys, and their dad was all, "Put those down until you finish your food," the kid was all, "I want that toy."

And the boy goes, "But you have your own toy in the box!" Of course, it's not there. Because I'd ordered the Happy Meal "sin juguete," without a toy, a request which had initially confounded the cashier. [Did she wonder how ever could a Meal be Happy without a toy? Had Google Translate led me astray? Was she actually from Brazil?]

After I made a little show of looking into the box and not seeing any toy, all the kids became very concerned. My daughter had been robbed. Only when the other dad helpfully suggested going back to the cashier and asking for the kid's toy did I explain that, in fact, the kid has no idea that Happy Meals are supposed to include toys; I always threw them out because I didn't want cheap plastic junk piling up around the house. And my plan was working perfectly until his kid spilled the beans. He looked as confused as the cashier, even though Google Translate wasn't involved in any way.

But now I was stuck trying to explain to the kid why she wasn't getting a toy, without calling the toys worthless pieces of marketing crap, and without appearing like a judgmental dork. It wasn't going well. So I tried to change the subject by asking the kid if she'd eaten enough of her lunch to have her pie. Bingo. I broke off a piece of my pie and set it on top of the box, with the hoovering of a couple more fries, the toy was promptly forgotten.

And as the kid sat there nibbling on her pumpkin pie, the two older kids stared silently. "What's THAT?" The older girl finally asked. The kid: "This is a pumpkin pie. It's delicious. Did you ever have a pumpkin pie before?" But it was clear they had not. As they began demanding pies from their dad, I he looked at me. I gave him a "Sorry, dude" shrug.

14 Comments

roo's cousins enlightened her to the happy meal toys at an early age. ugh. did you happen to see the "american idol" branded toys from a month or two ago? the toy designer made them WAY cooler than one would expect, they look like dunnys or something...

Good idea,
I kinda wish they would go back to the old "toys" I had as a kid, a paperboard model you had to put together or a puzzle, maybe a something with a secret code. You know it wouldn't last the day... but you could always just go get another. They all were done with the McDonald's characters and the themes changes with the seasons, not with what was on TV or the Movies. But then I guess they realized that they could make more money by advertising and thrift stores everywhere are stuck with bags of plastic McToys that are useless... well..except for the hotwheels :)

My almost 3 year old daughter got one of the American Idol toys in a Happy Meal a couple of months ago. We were so taken with them that we bought the complete set on e-bay to avoid eating more of the food! I'm partial to Soulful Selma...

There's meat in chicken nuggets? I thought it was all beaks and feathers.

The best toys are actually the "toddler toys" that you get if you request them. They're usually fun cars and things, not marketing junk (although some of the junk has been ok.)

I think anytime you deviate from conventional parenting habits you get that peculiar look from other parents. I'm getting used to it.

Oh, and chicken nuggets? 56% corn, per The Omnivore's Dillemma.

pie...there's pie at Macdonalds?

Whaouh ! I 've just discovered the Daddytypes, so great ! I'm a new fan !

Christèle
zolimome.com

We never tried the pie substitution, but we never gave her the toy inside McD's. Instead, I'd slip it into the diaper bag when I got to the table (using the same stealthy Daddy ninja skills that enabled me to get up the stairs when she was sleeping). We'd use them as distractions in the mall or on long car rides.

Then one day it was just her and I at the counter, and the cashier put the toy ON THE TRAY! And my daughter was all, "HEY! WHAT'S THAT?!?!" and thus innocence was lost.

I hoard them for the doctor's office. Until last week, when we actually went INSIDE the McDonald"s, cause I had to pee, and saw the enormous Speed Racer set-up.

We just got the McDonald's toddler toy today (the kid is only 10 months; I have to admit the Happy Meals were for us) and it was a hideous little Ronald McDonald (is he supposed to be a kid Ronald?) wheelie toy that's heading right for the trash, which makes me feel guilty. Darn. One of the fast food joints, Burger King, I think, used to have little Sassy toddler toys that were quite adorable, albeit plastic, but they've gone to crapass Little Tikes stuff, last we checked.

A friend of mine sums up her discipline theory as "the credible threat". As in, "If you don't stop yelling at the top of your lungs, I'm going to THROW OUT A TOY".

Happy Meal toys are always the ones to go. The kid has no idea it's a piece of crap and the mom gets the satisfaction of making good on a threat.

ha! this reminds me of my parents' attempt to fool us about the ice cream truck by calling it the 'Music Truck'

[that's awesome. -ed.]

I don't have a pie problem so the kid doesn't even know about McDonald's, much less the toys. But if Starbucks ever starts giving toys away, we'll really be in trouble.

This is why we go to In N Out Burger. No toys and you get to see them use an actual, real potato to make your kids french fries with. They don't have pie, however I can speak highly of their chocolate milkshakes.

[double double, baby. -ed.]

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