Marketing McMom

August 7, 2007

I stumbled upon this article in Forbes today while reading a cool blog (The Not Quite Crunchy Parent) and, surprisingly, it lifted my spirits. Normally, when I read about a study showing that “Most 3- and 5-year-olds who taste-tested a variety of foods said they preferred the ones in the McDonald’s wrapper — even though the foods were exactly the same,” it really rackles my cockles (did I mention that messing up cliches is an impediment that runs in my family?). But today, I felt empowered, hopeful even.

Why? You ask.

Because if you scooch down the article it says:

“Further research revealed that one-third of the children ate at McDonald’s more than once a week, and more than three-quarters had McDonald’s toys at home. In addition, the children in the study had an average of 2.4 televisions in their homes. More than half the kids had a TV in their bedrooms.” The lead researcher concluded, “We found that kids with more TVs in their homes and those who eat at McDonald’s more frequently were even more likely to prefer the food in the McDonald’s wrapper.”


McDonald’s does a great job making their food enticing to kids. Bright wrappers, big logos, snappy slogans, take home ‘rewards’ (in the happy meals) for eating their stuff. Honestly, what’s not for a kid to like? But the message I get loud and clear is that if we want want our kids to like the dishes we set down in front of them, we need to do a better job ‘marketing’ the meals we make at home. Yes, I know, my child is 9 months old so I’m no expert on this . . . yet. But I have interviewed quite a few diet and nutrition experts for various articles and had off-the-record conversations with them about kids and food. Here’s what I’ve learned from them:

* Make food appeal to kids’ senses. Instead of boiling or microwaving carrots, toss them in some olive oil and roast them so the house smells delish. Instead of spaghetti with butter on a white plate, throw in some (green) spinach and serve it in a red bowl.

* Get them involved. McDonald’s has an entire Happy Meal website devoted to entertaining kids. We, too, can entertain kids with our Super Antics in the kitchen. Put them to work pinching herbs, or pounding garlic in a mortar and pestle, or even stirring water in a bowl with a wooden spoon. The point is, make them feel like they’re in on the action.

* Generate a sense of anticipation. Get a great kids’ cookbook (Coleton Curtin loves this one) and let the kiddos choose what they want to make once or twice a week, then generate a sense of anticipation for the meal as you make a shopping list, gather the ingredients, etc. If you have a garden or a farmers’ market, ramble around with the kids and make up names of dishes you could make with each food. The whole experience can engage their imagination . . . maybe even as much as a Happy Meal Superhero! 

* Create a special occasion. There’s a sense with kids that having McDonald’s is a ‘special occasion’. We can do that too. Present the plate as a waiter would, introducing each food with a description . . . “razzle dazzle red potatoes” and the like (Noe loves it when I do this—she giggles and squirms with excitement and her eyes go all wide.). Then sit down with them and your own dinner and share in the enjoyment.






4 Responses to “Marketing McMom”

  1. foodette Says:

    There are some great ideas in this post. I don’t have any children, but if I ever do someday, the one thing I want to do more than anything is teach them about food. I think you are so right – parents these days serve their kids bland foods, for fear that they will refuse to eat something. But, starting young, you can teach kids to have an appreciate for healthy food made in the home. Allowing them to cook with you – even if it’s a very remedial task – really drives home a sense of respect for food. They learn that food is not just something that gets seasoned with MSG and heated under a lamp. They can learn to love food, which I believe leads to loving more important things: the care of animals, the care of the environment, and the care of one’s body.

    From all I have read on your site, I am positive that you are teaching these things to Noe, even if she is only 9 months old.

  2. lia Says:

    Thank you for this, Foodette. I really needed to hear this today. Just two days ago, Noe started the lovely stage of taking a bite of something, jamming her entire fist in her mouth to retrieve it, and then pulling it back out (granted, she then puts it back in and repeats the process a few times, so it’s not like she doesn’t like it, per se . . . and she is teething . . . and we did just make the swap from spoon-fed purees to finger foods . . . ). I don’t mind telling you that my ego’s a bit bruised (“but honey, those were the first carrots from the garden!”) and I’m struggling to keep my own expectations out of Noe’s experience. I just keep repeating to myself that this is a stage and that it’s GOOD that she’s interacting with her food (even if I wish that interaction looked a bit different ;-)) and that at some point she’ll move past this and some day we’ll all be able to sit down to a civilized dinner at Cyrus. With silverware.

    Thanks again Foodette!

  3. izzy's mama Says:

    I just discovered your blog from Serious Eats. I am glad to see others who are appalled about the McDonaldization of kids’ food. I write about raising my son to appreciate good food on my blog and if you persist, your daughter will certainly learn to eat well. It doesn’t always happen automatically but with all of your good ideas I am sure it will!

  4. lia Says:

    Great to see you here! I’ve been enjoying your site too. Thanks for the encouragement and inspiration.

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