SparkPeople Blogs  •  news  •  fast food

Family Fast Food: What Do You Think?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
For the most part, my husband appreciates my efforts to give my children a healthy, balanced diet. He thinks it's great that I cook a wide variety of foods for them and make sure that vegetables are a part of every meal. But we do differ in our thinking when it comes to fast food.

I know that most fast food restaurants have healthier options available and that it's okay to eat at these restaurants now and then if you are pressed for time- or even if you just want to. Personally, I'm not a fan of fast food, which is why I don't give it to my children. I respect that other parents choose differently, so I hope that others can respect my point of view in return.

My husband considers fast food to be a treat, and thinks every kid should get a Happy Meal now and then. I don't feel like my kids are missing out on anything by not eating this type of food, and don't really consider it to be a "treat". The only treat they might be missing out on is the free prize in the bottom of the bag, but I think they will be just fine without it. I know that someday they'll probably be stopping at drive-thrus with their friends like I did when I was young. But for the most part, they just won't be getting that kind of food from me. We have treats in our house, and I want my kids to enjoy the foods they eat. But I'd much rather see them get excited about the good food we find at this week's Farmer's Market, instead of jumping up and down every time we drive past the Golden Arches.

A recent study, published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, found that children's time spent at fast food restaurants was actually impacted more by their fathers than mothers. So if a father ate a lot of fast food meals, their children likely did as well. This is surprising, given that so many children spend more time with their mothers.

This was part of a 15-month study which looked at parents' use of time and how that impacted meal choices. In general, the less time parents had, the more likely the family was to eat fast food, which can also have an impact on obesity levels and overall health. It reinforces the idea that no matter how much time you have available, it's important to offer healthy foods and set a good example for the rest of the family.

Interested in more resources for healthy family eating? Check out The 10 Commandments of Healthy Eating for Parents, and A Parent's Guide to Nutrition for Kids.

What do you think?

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints


I'm not going to fret about the occasional fast food meal my children consume. I cook meals with plenty of produce, whole grains, lean meat, and skim milk most of the time. In reality, I have a demanding job and busy children. If picking up a pizza or grabbing sandwiches out saves our sanity a few times a month, I'm ok with that. https:// / Report
I totally believe the findings that fathers who eat at fast food places have a greater impact on their's true in my case. My husband was basically a fast food junkie in college and his job for 15 years before we married. He claimed he wanted to be eating healthier when we had our kid. But then he and his parents would go to fast food places every chance they got, whenever I wasn't there or even if I was there, a lot of pressure. It was always this "we don't have to do what mom wants..." kind of thing...or the "I'm the grandparent, I can spoil my grandkids however I wish". Really sad because now the grandparents are both dead. Oddly enough, as I continue to try to cook "real foods" our son is realizing that it does taste better than fast food... Hmmm Report
My daughter is following in her father's footsteps & they dine on fast food at least once a day. I eat a clean healthy diet. They do not want any part of it. My`daughter is 20 and will not eat the good food I eat. I can be out shopping & starving & I will wait until I get home to eat something healthy before I will eat fast food or at a restaurant. Report
I never considered fast food a "treat." It was more of a convenience. For example, on a long road trip trying to get from point A to point B as soon as possible, what other choice do I have? I can keep healthy snacks in a cooler, but not whole meals. Same for everyday living. But a TREAT? NO. Report
Once in a great while fast food is ok, just not on a regular basis. Moderation is the key. I don't believe a couple of happy meals a year will hurt a child but I don't think they should be a weekly or even monthly treat either. I myself hate fast food but still indulge about once a year. I'm always sorry for a few days though because my digestive tract doesn't know what to do with the stuff! Report
My mother kept me from having fast food. . . ever. Not even as a treat.

What did I do as soon as I moved out and went to college? I gorged on fast food. I ended up with a hefty fast food addiction and an extra 30 pounds.

I'm a big believer in "everything in moderation". Report
When I was growing up,we only stopped at Burger Chef on mom's school night which was once a week. All other times it was homecooking. My husband & I only do fastfood one meal a week or less. Normally we stop at a regular resturant that is semi fastfood. My weight never got out of control till 6years ago partly caused by my medicine got my Crohnes Disease under control.I got more nutrition from my food & was battling inability to know when I was full as that part of my body stopped working for several months. Report
This is so funny because when my kids were small, McDonalds was the threat... If you don't behave yourselves, we're going 'there' for a burger instead of someplace with better food! Report
Here's my two cents~ Forbidden food is more alluring, so forbidding anything is a surefire way to get kids to really want it.
If the kids eat healthy food with you most of the time, a couple Happy Meals with dad once in a while isn't going to derail your good nutrition efforts.

you betcha that fast food has changed. when I was a girl they had three things on the menu at McDonalds. hamburger, cheeseburger, coke and fries. Ok, 4. my brother, being fairly big, and a wrestler, ate two meals. Football players ate three.

if we went into McDonalds and ordered a basic meal like that we wouldn't all be big as houses. it's the super sizes and the mega sandwiches that've changed the way we think of a meal. in the fifties or sixties almost no one ate the way we do now. Report
I can see both points of view as valid. On one hand we are responsible for teaching our children to eat well and take good care of their bodies, and on the other we need to remember that one Happy Meal does not ruin your life forever. I think the main thing to consider is our own attitudes. My kids follow my example in doing my best to take care of myself, but I also don't ever want to set them up to think it is the worst thing in the world to enjoy a french fry. Honestly, I think we can be a little self-righteous when it comes to this whole issue. Yes, we can teach our children to eat well and still have unhealthy foods in moderation. But to say it is right or wrong to eat fast food is just plain ridiculous (I'm not saying the author is saying that - but you have to admit many people out there do!). Food is not the moral issue that we have made it out to be. Report
To me "moderation" means that a little bit of poison is ok. I just can't wrap my head around that.
The way the industry treats animals is also unacceptable to me. Report
I'm not surprised that Dads eat more fast food than Moms do, and when the kids are with him and not Mom, they'll eat more fast food, too.
Believing that Dad will go home for a balanced, nutritious lunch in between sons baseball game and daughters softball game is like believing the sun and moon will rise in the west.
Most dads cook only when forced, and the choice between fast food and cooking it themselves is not consistent with 'man thinking'.
Besides, most guys think a Triple Bacon Cheese Terminator and a coke ARE balanced nutrition (Burger and bacon = protein; lettuce, tomatoes and onion = vegetables; cheese = dairy and bun equals carbs & grain. Extra ketchup even adds a fruit - tomatoes are weird. A 16 ounce beverage is two servings of water, especially if it's diet).
The result of an hour or two of high intensity exercise and a little fast food (1/3 is obviously less than 2/3), results in a high metabolism and the burning of very high numbers of calories and slender kids. That amount of exercise is supplemented by a moderate intensity exercise while practicing with Dad or Mom at home.
I had trouble getting the girls I coached to eat enough to continue to gain weight as they got older and taller.
At 5'3" and 105 pounds of muscle, all of the girls were slender and attractive young ladies. The occasional girl who started the season "overweight" ended by being more proud of themselves than they ever thought possible. Report
I take my kid to fast food now and then when I have to go for work to audit and want to spend more time with her or when we're in a pinch, but I would never treat it as a treat. I don't think they're missing anything if they don't go, but I like to set an example of ordering responsibly when confronted with the choices. The odds are that she'll eventually end up at fast food with her friends, so I want her to be prepared to make good choices there. Report
Yup, they are missing out on something. Chemicals, excess sodium, excess fat, excess JUNK! I especially wouldn't want my kids to view fast food as a "treat." That's what my family did and as I grew up I started viewing food more and more as a way to "treat" myself. Report
I can attribute some of my early weight gain to eating too much fast food with my family and friends. That being said, the options have changed a bit, and while it's all still processed and not the best choice, I do think it's important to teach children how to eat there if they find themselves in fast food joint. I say this because I had a friend who never ate at them and when she got to college she gained 30 lbs because she could finally eat McDonald's everyday. Teaching healthy habits, including moderation, is important. Report
Our family has fast food occasionally -- like maybe once every couple of months. I enjoy it as a "treat." But I also try to get my kids the healthier options. And there are fast food places that have more healthy options to choose from. We go to those. Report
Much of my weight gain is by eating fast food. I would go about 5 time a week in 2006. It was so easy. I mostly like the food. But just where they hide so many calories I don't know. I like BLT and make them at home but feel so bad when I log them. Last year I again lived close to a McD but learned my lesson and only go about 1 - 2 times per month. Report
My husband would eat fast food once a day if left to his own resources, so it's a challenge to keep his away from "fast-food row" in our town. Since he's 71 with a normal weight and low cholesterol and high blood pressure, I've accepted the fact that he likes that kind of stuff, and he often (one or twice a week?) has it when I'm not around. I have succeeded in getting him to order just a burger, no fries or onion rings. I will have a burger with him maybe once a month. Report
i feel it might be better to teach them young how to face the dilemma of fast food. So I guess i agree more with your husband about giving it as a rare treat. Maybe not as often as once a week but more like once a month. And then helping them choose whatever healthier options there are. Report
I'm with you! No reason to feed our children this toxic stuff and support companies that are not supportive of workers' rights and sustainable agriculture. Report
We lived in a very small community growing up, so 'fast' food was practically non-existent. I had a McD's burger maybe 2-3 times growing up--though there was a KFC nearer to us that we would go to as a treat--maybe 3 or 4 times a year? Anyway, to this day I have no strong desire for fast food. Tried it a few times when I first moved to the city, but it wasn't that appealing. I still get the urge for a bucket o' KFC about once or twice a year though.... Report
Ok I know I'm as old as the hills and things change, but when we moved to the big city of Little Rock when I was a kid, we'd get McD (or Scotty's) once a week. However, that is back in the day when they only served the little burgers and little white bags of fries. The three kids each got a little burger and shared one bag of fries (or about 5 or 10 fries each), and we ate them at home, not at the restaurant. My mom always had us eat at a table except for once a week when we got to use tv trays to watch Disney. Needless to say I was a skinny little thing til i got out on my own and broke those rules :) I haven't eaten a burger in years and I don't think I could get a McD burger down if you paid me, so I think if kids don't get that stuff, they really don't miss it. Especially if you give them your own version of a happy meal! Report
I believe that you can teach children how to eat healthy and also have fast food once in a while as a treat. My daughter is 3 and doesn't even like McDonald's food, but she does like the Play Place. So I take her there I get her apples and a toy (you do not have to get a Happy Meal to get the toy) and get myself a cup of coffee. Works out great! Report
My kids don't like it so it's nothing I have to really think about. The closest we get is a slice or pizza on a Thursday (my fullest day of the week) or some light Chinese food.... They HATE the fast food chains and I hope that they stay like that... this way they won't be super sized like their mommy. Report
My think... fast food is a little (or maybe a lot) like alchohol.
Making it a forbidden pleasure doesn't seem to deter overindulgence.
Allowing it to be a special reward doesn't seem to deter overindulgence.
Exposure in small quantities with adequatre information and without a big to-do does seem to lead away from overindulgence.

My bottom line: there is a certain amount of common sense involved in this parenting business. If you want something like alchohol or food a big thing in a childs life, then make a big fuss about it. Otherwise, they'll pass it by as often as not. Report
Seems like if you're going to indulge, you could at least go and support a good local dive rather than the mega-chains. Report
My kids are now all teens and will occasionally have fast food when out with friends. As a family, we usually only have it on road trips while traveling through areas that don't have a lot of choices. Thankfully, no one seems to have a real fondness for any particular franchise. Contrary to the blog, my husband would be the one more likely to discourage stopping at a fast food restaurant. He is a good cook and a frugal budgeter, so it goes against his nature to indulge in it. Report
I find it amazing the number of people who swear their kids will never eat fast food (the childless ones). I too was a perfect parent, until I had kids. My husband and I both work to support our families. We both have rather stressful jobs and that combined with my son's weekly doctor appointment, our church commitments once or twice weekly and sports (if we have chosen to join them that season) mean that my kids sometimes eat McDonalds...and not the healthy choices either. I let them have the cheeseburger with fries and *gasp* a milkshake. We also have pizza once a week. Usually we make it from scratch but sometimes we order in. Its our Friday night family night tradition. Then we sit around as a family, watch movies and play games. Not the healthiest physically but after a crazy week the kids and I look forward to it. I think the important thing is not to make it a staple of your diet and not to give fast food a big stigma either by restricting it or openly judging the people who choose to run for the border... Report
I take my kids to McDonald's! We live in Michigan where we often find ourselves knee deep in snow. McDonald's has the playplace that gives the kids a chance to run and play when the weather leaves a lot to be desired. Since McDonald's has healthier choices, it gives me the oppurtunity to teach my kids how to make the healthier choice. Also, a little tip for other parents, you can purchase the happy meal toy seperately and it doesn't cost much. You don't have to get your kids a happy meal, they can just as easily get a salad and a toy. Report
My kids Do get exctied about the cool stuff we find at the farmers market. But the still occassionaly bug me to go to MCD's or Wendy's. In the summer though we live in a rual area with many little farms that have road side stands you will be driving and you'll see a big sign "tomatoes,lopes(cantelope), Berries or cucs,'' it just varies depending on what season... Often my middle daughter who will eat tomatoes and cucs raw with out even peeling it will see a sign and say Moooooom can we stop and get something... Often in peak season I can get cucs and tomatoes for 3 or 2 for a dollar and my 3 children and I will snack on them in the car... What better "fast food" then something that was picked that morning and is fresh and ready to eat... we also do this with berries and snap peas:) Report
We do not eat fast food very much since I quit working. I would much rather cook. When I was growing up, it was a treat to eat at fast food restaurants. However, that being said, I do not think the government should involve themselves in what people choose to eat either. Report
I used to "treat" my kids with a trip to a fast food restaurant. At first, they loved it. We celebrated grade card day with lunch at the arches. The kids ate their meals and played and had a great time. Over time though, they no longer enjoyed the food and just wanted to play and not eat there. Now that we have a Subway in the neighborhood, they have asked if we could go there on grade card day instead. And this coming grade card day, we are planning a picnic and a day at a climbing park instead of any fast food at all. We are trying to retrain ourselves to not think of any type of food as a "treat". I believe if we eat healthy at home, our kids will choose healthy when we are out and about. Imagine the look on the face of the flight attendant when my kids request salmon with rice and brocoli for their in-flight meal. Report
My parents basically never let us have fast food and when they did it was a "treat." I always knew it was bad but I never really grasped why. Once I was an adult with my own money and saw that basically EVERYONE I worked and went to school with had fast food at least a few times a week I started eating it regularly too. I gained 120lbs in one year. Mind you there were other factors, such as massive amounts of stress and being out of the house 16hrs a day but it has been a serious struggle to get out of that mode, and I'm still trying desperately to get it back off. Anyways, my two cents is I guess that if you are going to completely withold explain why, don't make it a taboo thing and if you do help them make good choices from the get go so it's just a habit.I suppose that's true with teaching kids to eat healthy in general though, huh? Report
Our family is just the opposite - my husband DESPISES the stuff, but I don't think it's that awful if it's an occasional treat. Plus, in our family, we don't order soda or french fries, so that right there makes it a whole lot more nutritious. If we're doing Happy Meals, the kids get burgers, apples, and milk. But I would like it if McDonald's would offer the Chicken Snack Wraps as part of kids' meals, because both of my kids LOVE the grilled ones, as do I, and it's always hard for them to give up the toy. But if I had my druthers, I'd make a Happy Meal that had a grilled chicken snack wrap, a fruit-n-yogurt parfait, and a bottle of water!!!! :) Report
It's probably not a huge deal if occasional means once a month or less and if the rest of the time you are feeding them healthier choices. I feel like a lot of busy families consider 'occasional' to be one or twice a WEEK, and that is worrisome. Pizza one night and happy meals another is beyond a 'treat.' I think cutting some kids off completely from fast food could backfire when they get older and start making their own choices - make up for lost time when they were not allowed fast food.
I'm not going to fret about the occasional fast food meal my children consume. I cook meals with plenty of produce, whole grains, lean meat, and skim milk most of the time. In reality, I have a demanding job and busy children. If picking up a pizza or grabbing sandwiches out saves our sanity a few times a month, I'm ok with that. Report
There are some healthy choices at fast food restaurants that can be good in a pinch. Report
I have SUCH a hard time anymore giving into the request for a Happy Meal. My kids get maybe one a month? And 80% of the time, that comes from dad. I just think the quality of food is so crappy I feel GUILTY letting them eat it. On a good note, my girls are very fond of fruits, vegetables, and healthier foods in general (plus they drink water by choice 95% of the time) so when I give them the alternative to get a kids meal from Subway, they almost always go for it.

I do on the whole try not to tell my kids that ANY food is off-limits. I buy Oreo cookies or ding dongs from time to time, but I stress that 2 cookies are a serving, and OK for your body after a day of healthy eating. I've known too many people (myself included) who grew up being told certain foods were "bad" or taboo, only to gorge on them every chance they got. Moderation is key. Report
Completely agree with you. I don't have kids but if I did, I wouldn't take them out to eat fast food. I always look at the nutrition guide for the foods at fast food places and they're all really bad. I know I'm not the best of taking care of myself but I wouldn't want to teach that to my kids. Report
In my opinion fast food joints sell crap grade space fillers. If I'm out of reach of my kitchen, like a doctors appointment, I will hit a restaurant instead, like I-Hop or an Italian cuisine, in the end the choices may be as bad as Taco Bell, Burger King, McDonalds[I despise] I at least get some flavor and enjoyment rather than ripped off. I hated McDonalds as a kid I remember it well, as all the kids screamed to go there I was out voted and just had a coke and fries, I don't get the infatuation with crap like Taco Bell a picture of a taco filled with meat and cheese, take one apart a tablespoon off ground ? and a pinch of cheese then covered in lettuce as a filler. Rip off! I order 1 bean and cheese burro to go and dump the whole tin of fire sauce in the bag as I like that part and cook my own Mexican food then use their hot sauce. Report
I do agree as well. Fast food should not be a part of a growing child's diet. Report
I agree as well. With 2 kids I feel I can make a healthy meal for about the same or less $ then it takes at the fast food place and I know whats going into their bodies. We do go out every once and awhile but there we try to make healthy choices when possible as well. As for my husband, he does take our oldest out more, a treat he says. I think a treat is going to the book store for a book or target for a new hotwheel car! Report
I don't have children but my friends kids will not eat fast food. They like junk food (cakes, cookies, pies, chips etc) but refuse to eat at the fast food places. They love places like the Italian market and will eat lunch meats like imported ham and proscuto. It cracks me up when they talk about places like McDonalds and Taco Bell. Report
I totally agree, fast food isn't a treat, we only eat from there when we're pressed for time, normally we have home cooked meals, although I will say my kids are always happy when we stop for fast food Report
This is why people in my family are going to have to know how to cook. Report
I think it matters whose the cook or if both parents are cooking the meals. Women tend to be to cooks for the family so it is usually the mom who chooses the food. It is becoming more popular when the main cook is unavailable, the parent who doesn't or want to cook for the kids tends to go to fast food restaurants. On tv, you see many dads say, "mom's not here, let's have pizza." or another unhealthy choice. I don't see fast food as a treat, but I don't mind having it once in awhile. My husband and I both like cooking, though I'm the better cook. My dad was the better cook than my mom. Athough as my siblings and I were growning up, my dad didn't cook the healthiest meals as he used a lot if Crisco (unhealthy cooking fat). It really does matter in childhood how important it is to have healthy meals and proportion control which we do learn from our parents both their good and bad habits. Report
Actually, some types of diabetes are caused by lifestyle choices. And ideal weight is not the only hallmark of health, good or poor. Fast food is pumped full of chemicals, processed to death, and depleted our land of resources. If one chooses to eat it, it should be an informed decision, to be sure... Report
I just have to pass on my own experience. Fast food was a real rarity growing up. Once I got to college I developed a fascination with it and ate it every meal I could afford it.

I do think that if it had been a moderate part of my diet - even as "treat" status, I would not have craved it so much when I finally had unlimited access. Having it now and then would have made it "normal" without being something indulgent and out of reach. Report
Mealtime is a social event as well as a personal nutrition task. If fathers model how we relate to others and mothers model how we relate to ourselves, it makes sense that children whose fathers eat at fast food joints would be more inclined to eat at them too. Report
Close email sign up
Our best articles, delivered Join the millions of people already subscribed Get a weekly summary of our diet and fitness advice We will never sell, rent or redistribute your email address.

Magic Link Sent!

A magic link was sent to Click on that link to login. The link is only good for 24 hours.