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Do you want toys with that?

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Today the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors is set to give final approval to a controversial ordinance that would ban local fast-food restaurants from offering toys with unhealthful fast-food meals. Probably the best we can say about the effort is if they did it to get publicity, they certainly succeeded. This motion has brought out just about every kind of crazy ranter, from the anti-government-intervention zealots to the pro-plastic-toy lobby.

Here at Jolly Tomato, we get kind of excited when someone is really willing to push the envelope like this. It makes for great debate and discussion, and it makes us re-examine our own eating habits and reward practices.

But realistically, what will the ordinance do? People who regularly buy fast food for their kids aren’t likely to stop just because the toys disappear. As some consumers have already pointed out, many Santa Clara county parents will probably head to a neighboring county to get their fast food. And people who don’t regularly scrutinize the nutritional information on fast-food labels are unlikely to start now, simply to determine whether or not a toy is included. It’s just as likely that if there’s no toy in the bag, they’ll buy their kids a milkshake (440 calories for a small McDonald’s chocolate shake, in case you were wondering).

Full disclosure: We took the kids to McDonald’s the other day to remind ourselves what the fuss was all about (haven’t been there in about, oh, a year or so). Our pickiest eater won’t eat burgers, chicken, or fish, so that pretty much knocks out the whole menu for him. We ordered two Happy Meals, both with hamburgers and apple slices, and a small side of fries to split. It wasn’t the most nutritious lunch ever, but it certainly wasn’t the worst. And the toys? Extremely cheap-o plastic, worth about four minutes of interest for the sheer novelty factor, and now they are on a junk pile most likely headed for the trash.

Bottom line: We’re happy to have some government intervention now and then (particularly in terms of requiring nutritional information) but we don’t really need regulators to tell us how to reward our kids. If we had to make a recommendation to parents, we’d say (as always) moderation in all things is the best way to go. Keep your fast-food visits infrequent, and don’t go simply on the basis of getting a new toy. If you do go to a fast-food restaurant, try to make healthy choices (apples instead of fries; grilled instead of fried; milk instead of soda). And if you choose not to go, make sure that what you’re offering is truly better.

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