It's not burgers or fries, but toys that lure kids to junk food

When your little one insists on eating only at a fast-food joint, throwing a major fit if he’s taken anywhere else, you know you have a problem at hand.

Fast-food joints are packing in fancy, coloured toys to entice their little customers, and the parents are left with very little bargaining power.

The toys are undoubtedly the major draw, with most kids proclaiming they have a huge collection of toys from McDonald’s, Burger King and Pop Eye, stacked away in their play rooms.

“I have so many of them now that I don’t know have space for any more,” proclaims a five-year-old, who visits the mall outlets of these fast-food joints, at least once a week.

His father, Ahmad, endorses his claim. “Yeah, it’s his day out and he chooses where he wants to eat.”

His kid brother, aged 3, is also a regular fast-food eater and chomps away as his elder brother lists out his favourite on the McDonald’s menu. “I like chicken nuggets the most.”

Rishi Tahir adds that his son refuses to eat anywhere else and his family dinner-out eventually ends up at a fast-food outlet. “It’s not so much about the food but the toy that comes along with it. He might leave his meal unfinished, but he won’t forget to take the toy, which he proudly displays in his room.”

And some of this addiction does boil down to peer pressure. “When a new toy is out, I try and get it before my friends do,” adds a six-year-old boy.

While the toys are the most obvious bait, some children concur that they actually like what’s served on their plate. “I always order the hamburger and fries. I like it a lot,” states another 6-year-old.

The problem, however, is far more, deep- rooted, with many parents insisting that fast-food can harm their kids’ health. “Children should not be allowed to eat junk food. Merely adding a pack of assorted fruit slices and milk doesn’t make junk food any healthier,” asserts parent of a four-year-old, who struggles to keep his son away from these outlets.

“Despite ordering the kids meal, the fruit salad and milk are always left untouched. They just eat the fries and the chicken nuggets,”adds another parent.

The meals, although most fast-food joints would have us believe, aren’t good for the children, let alone adults.

“Kids meals are not healthy. It’s abundant in empty calories and concentrated in saturated fat and salt,” explains nutritionist

Emilie Hartmann. “It’s low in fiber, vitamins and minerals. And, it doesn’t even fill you up, because of the absence of any fiber.”

She stresses how these meals, if consumed regularly could result in obesity, and parents must ensure that it is limited to one-off treats. “Allowing children to eat it once a week is not good. It could end up as a habit.”

Most fast food companies, Emilie concedes have made an improvement in trying to serve healthier options for kids, when compared to what’s on their regular menu, but even these initiatives aren’t ideal.

The juice is healthier than soda, but it’s not the healthiest. It’s still loaded in sugar. It’s the milk that’s the healthy option,” she adds. “In fact, they don’t serve bottled water in the meal. Children must be encouraged to drink more water.”

Good eating habits should be encouraged at home, insists Emilie.

Although these meals are marketed as child-friendly, they are fried, in oil that’s been reported as not good quality, fatty and harmful for a child’s development.


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