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McDonald’s ongoing mommy issues

An impassioned debate sprang up last week on one of the mommy blogs I read regularly. It immediately stood out among the other daily posts. Though it’s a well-trafficked website, most of its posts get about 20 comments or less. This one got 434. The topic wasn’t about homeschooling or bullies or spanking. It was about fast food. McDonald’s to be exact.

Blogger Gabrielle Blair of Design Mom asked a simple and honest question—“When’s the last time you ate at McDonald’s”—at the top of a post sponsored by the burger chain. (McDonald’s has long tapped into the mommy-blogger community, even inviting these bloggers to its headquarters for a tour and Q&A with its president.). In the post, the Oakland, Calif.-based mother of six fessed up that she felt like she “was pretending I’m never a McDonald’s customer, when actually, from-time-to-time, I am.” She wrote that, after waffling about whether to even work with the burger chain (and accept their sponsorship), she reconsidered after the company said she was free to speak (and write) openly. So, Blair laid out her “McDonald’s confessional,” listing 10 instances in which McDonald’s was a go-to choice for her, her friends or her family. Then she opened up the thread to her readers.

The response was a mixed bag of confessions and criticisms that provided virtual insight into parents’ conflicted reasoning about choosing McDonald’s and fast food, in general. They ran the gamut from some moms claiming their children never have nor ever will eat at McDonald’s, to those admitting only to eating the fast food on road trips, to moms recalling childhood memories centered around those fries or the Hamburglar, to others disclosing that fast-food is a choice of convenience and affordability, at times, for their families. A sampling:

“I never eat at McDonald’s and haven’t for years … certainly not a place I would go not to ‘treat’ myself or my kids.”

“I don’t eat meat … but I treat my kid to a Happy Meal once in a while, he loves to play in the PlaySpace. Extremes in parenting don’t interest me, I don’t think it’s the way to raise well-rounded children. Moderation is an important skill for a kid to learn.”

“Anyone who claims to eat only whole foods has never traveled with children on long car trips … If you live in America, you eat some kind of ‘McDonald’s’ type food, even if you only shop at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s they have processed foods there as well. If you have teenagers that drive, they are definitely eating at McDonald’s type places.”

“My husband—who is more of a foodie than me—also really likes McDonald’s. I think that partially comes from his parents outright banning fast food when he was growing up … But really, I hadn’t gone there much as an adult until we had kids. Now it makes a convenient lunch maybe once a month while running errands. I don’t think it is evil—they seem to be trying to offer some more healthy options as part of their kids meals … as an option every once [in a while]—I can live with that.”

The anti-McDonald’s, anti-fast-food, holier-than-thou, how-dare-you tone—and there was plenty of it—got heated at times, with Blair stepping in frequently to moderate the comments and temper the discourse. But that’s to be expected these days when bashing the burger giant is practically an IOC-recognized sport. (Not surprising, other issues crept into the conversation as well, including the minimum wage and McDonald’s labor policies.)

What was perhaps more unexpected was the number of commenters who came forward to embrace the fact that, “I’m a mom, and my kids eat McDonald’s.” I suspect those brave souls still were holding back (really, only on road trips?), but I get it. As a busy mom who still holds out some hope that I can do it all, I’m constantly striving to cook more, feed my kids better and skip McDonald’s—and Burger King and Wendy’s and the like. But more often I’m in the camp of the moderation moms who aren’t afraid to admit that fast food can be a savior when the day is hectic, the budget is tight or the moment simply calls for french fries.

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