On most afternoons around 4pm, I am able to momentarily come out of my work haze and realize that pretty soon, my family is going to need to eat dinner. I then panic because I also realize that although the last time I went to the supermarket I loaded up on all different kids of meats, these meats are sitting in my freezer, hard as a rock, because I forgot to plan ahead and defrost something. At this point, I usually opt to make something for the kids that doesn’t need to be defrosted, like pasta, macaroni and cheese or chicken nuggets, but every once in awhile I surrender and let the kids get McDonald’s, after which I am aggravated with myself for letting them eat such unhealthy crap.
So last week when I received an invitation to a press event focusing on the launch of McDonald’s New York Metro Nutrition Network and ways to eat healthier at McDonald’s, I have to say that I was a bit intrigued. Could the occasional indulgence in McDonald’s have some redeeming qualities (outside of being a meal that I didn’t have to cook)?
This event was pretty impressive – not only was it well organized, but it was very informative on so many levels. Oh, and it was inside the fanciest McDonald’s location that I have ever seen – 3 floors of seating, flashing lights on the marquee outside, right in the middle of Times Square.
First, we learned about the launch of the McDonald’s New York Metro Nutrition Network, a community outreach initiative to support local nutrition programs. New York Metro Area non-profit organizations can apply for funds to jumpstart or enhance their own project that brings an understanding of good nutrition and healthy eating to your community. Selected organizations will receive a $5,000 grant specifically for their programs that will help them bring nutrition information and guidance to their community. This is something that proves to me as a consumer that McDonald’s is exceptionally committed to educating people about improved nutrition choices. (Editor’s Note: We will write a post next week with information on how to apply for these grants).
Tanya Zukerbrot, MS, RD, was also on hand to discuss how our families can improve our health through our food choices. Did you know that because of how and what we (as a society) are eating, this is the first time that kids’ life spans are estimated to be less than their parents? That is crazy, isn’t it? Here are some tips that she gave us that I am going to try to put into practice in my own family:
- Let your kids feel invested in the way your family eats and give them some ownership by taking them to the supermarket and having them help with the shopping trip. Of course every kid wants every sugar cereal, candy and snack, but help them make healthier choices by having them look at the nutrition value of their choices.
- One thing that kids need to know is that it’s okay to eat snacks or things that are not super healthy, but the key to healthy eating is moderation. My kids know that they can’t eat candy every single day, but they also know that they are allowed to eat it sometimes.
- Try not to over-police your kids with what they eat. Although they will listen to you now, there is a chance that they will try and overcompensate the other way when they are grown and out on their own, making their own choices.
In addition to general health tips, Ms. Zukerbrot also talked about how we can eat healthy at McDonald’s. I know, that sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? However, they really do offer some pretty healthy options – even the regular standbys are not as unhealthy as we all think. McDonald’s was actually the first fast food chain to provide information about the nutritional value and calorie content of their menu offerings – and this was 35 years ago!
As you read this post, I know that the images of “pink slime” that have been circulating the web are circulating in your mind and you are ready to vomit at the thought. Of course this is a topic that was brought up by a few of the savvy bloggers who were in attendance, and we were assured by McDonald’s executives that all McDonald’s hamburgers are made of 100% USDA-inspected beef, no fillers and no extenders. All McNuggets are made of minced white meat, no dark meat, no bones, no skin. Translation: No pink slime in McDonald’s products.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s move on.
A McDonald’s breakfast can be a super healthy choice. If you compare the nutritional value of an Egg McMuffin to a plain bagel with no cream cheese or butter, the Egg McMuffin is more nutritious. It is made of fresh whole eggs, Canadian bacon, American Cheese and an English Muffin, is 300 calories and has 18 grams of protein. A plain bagel is over 500 calories and has no protein! You decide which you would rather eat. Another great breakfast option at McDonald’s is the Fruit ‘N Yogurt Parfait with Granola – 160 calories, 4g protein and 1g fiber. Lunch and dinner options include a hamburger (250 calories, 12g protein and 2g fiber), McCafe Wild Berry Real Fruit Smoothie (210 calories, 2g protein, 3g fiber) and more.
I will though state the obvious once again – everything I am saying about healthy options at McDonald’s assumes that it is eaten in moderation. I am in no way telling you to bring your kids to McDonald’s every single day.
Some other quick facts I learned about McDonald’s
- If you are concerned about your sodium intake, request “no extra salt” when you order your burger and fries.
- McDonald’s makes it easier for kids with nut allergies – all of their fries are made in Canola Oil, not peanut oil. For comprehensive ingredient and allergen information, visit McDonald’s website.
- None of McDonald’s menu items have transfat.
- Happy Meals have had the fry serving size reduced from 2.2 oz to 1.1 oz and now include both fries and fruit, so kids won’t be whining that their friend got fries and they got apples.
- Chocolate milk is high in calcium and always a better option than soda or sugary drinks for kids who don’t like milk.
Everything I learned has made me look at McDonald’s in a different light and I won’t feel so bad next time my kids ask for it. The key is truly to make healthy choices, and McDonald’s is helping us with that by offering some great tasting options and giving us nutrition information on everything they serve.