“Happy Meals” might not be so happy after all.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is taking on one of my favorite corporations I love to hate—McDonalds!! Yes, McDonald’s is being sued for using toys to sell their “happy meals” that turn out to be pretty unhealthy (Surprise! Surprise!).  Marketing unhealthy foods to children so that you can make money seems pretty contemptuous and predatory.  According to CSPI, tempting kids with toys is unfair and deceptive.    Children can’t really be expected not to fall prey to the marketing of popular toys with their meals or to make informed decisions about the nutritional value of their food.  Parents suffer the pestering of their children who basically want the toys and the food is secondary (but deadly).  The Federal Trade Commission reported that McDonald’s led the pack for spending the most money of all the fast-food companies on toys to market children’s meals to the tune of $360 million.  And you can be sure they don’t spend that kind of money if it doesn’t equal profits.  Along with McDonald’s success we have seen the rates of overweight and obesity in children triple since 1978 and the increased abundance of inexpensive, high-calorie foods are definitely part of the problem.

The International Obesity Task Force has called for bans on the “inclusion of free gifts, toys or collectible items, which appeal to children to promote unhealthy food” and Santa Clara, California has become the first city to ban the inclusion of toys in unhealthy restaurant meals.

But children aren’t the only ones that fall prey to the marketing of unhealthy foods by corporations.  According to Brian Wansink in his book, “Mindless Eating,” we make over 200 decisions about food every day.  And, because we are often mindlessly going through our day with our minds on too many things at once, we can easily be tricked by packages, lighting, and plate sizes to eat too much and not know that what we’re really eating.  My advice is to beware of anything that even comes in a package.  That’s your first sign to pay attention even if it is a supposed “health food.”  According to Michael Pollan in his book, “In Defense of Food,” when food comes “packaged with health claims that should be our first clue they are anything but healthy.”  He also makes the distinction between “food” (whole fresh food) and “food products” (processed food).  So the bottom line here is that children aren’t the only ones at risk when it comes to marketing.  To make it simple for you, I really like Pollan’s advice.  “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”  That’s a truly happy way to eat.