New York City to consider ban on Happy Meal toys. Are you lovin’ it?

Happy MealAhhh, the Happy Meal. Regardless of whether or not you ever step foot in a McDonald’s, you probably know exactly what you might find if you open up that brightly colored container: A little hamburger or set of nuggets, pouch of fries–and a cheap plastic toy.

How many of our kids ask for the toy before the food? Or ask for the food because of the toy? I’ll sheepishly raise my hand.

It now looks like New York City may ban Happy Meal toys following in San Francisco’s footsteps. NYC Councilman Leroy Comrie asserted his desire to “limit fast food industries’ ability to target and lure in the most vulnerable members of our society”. 

I get it. With obesity on the rise, do kids really need more incentive to eat meals with up to 700 calories? On the other hand though, for this mama who hits the fast-food joints so rarely that the kids think it’s a holiday when we do, I’m not sure the removal of the toy is all that needs to change. – Christina

We’d love to hear from you: Is this a ridiculous case of the government stepping on parents’ decision-making? Or, in this age of extreme obesity among younger and younger kids, does the toy in the box post too much of a lure for young children? Or maybe it’s much ado about nothing…


Senior Associate Editor Christina Refford loves homeschooling, running, cool kids’ music, and coffee. Not in that order.


  • Reply April 5, 2011

    The Other Teacher

    This is a good debate. I am not sure about every where but I know that we can buy the toys by themselves. There is no need to purchase the whole meal. I do think there is a lot of profit in just the toys themselves. However, McD’s are everywhere and the come with playgrounds, funny creatures and a happy clown that make children beg and beg and beg. After a hard day of work or whatever, it is easy for even the most health conscience parent to cave.

  • Reply April 5, 2011


    I love Happy Meal toys. They have a history for me and a fascination I can’t explain. That’s my disclaimer. My thoughts are that it’s a waste of legislative time/money to try and ban them in an effort to curb obesity.

    Education is the answer not gimmicks. People (with the exception of myself) don’t go to McDonald’s for the toys. They go for the convenience. If the problem is the calorie count (which I doubt is limited to McDonald’s alone) why focus on the toy?

    Legislators should fix the accepted government-approved food pyramid and deal with the subsidies that have made junk food more affordable than food with real nutrition.

  • Reply April 5, 2011


    Removing the toys won’t detract from the appeal of Happy Meals to kids. As long as they keep delivering food in a cute little box (or bag) with the latest kids movie characters on it and calling it a “Happy Meal” kids are still going to want to eat it.

    They should conduct an experiment offering a new “Healthy, Happy Meal” (400-500 calories) with the latest movie marketing and place the traditional meals in plain packaging. I think kids would pick the first option hands down- toy or not.

    Personally, I’d love to see the toys go away for other reasons- who needs more crappy plastic toys to litter the floor and then the landfill? However, McD’s is a treat for mine too, so the toys is always a big deal!

  • Reply April 5, 2011


    I mean realistically, who do we think this is aimed at? The people who occasionally take their kids to McDonald’s? Probably not. It’s aimed at people who allow their kids to eat there 4 times a week. It never sits well with me when the government tries to “parent”. But if the government really wants to help kids and the obesity issue, they should work on measures to make fruits, vegetables and other whole foods more affordable for lower income families. Ironically, it’s government subsidies that allow fast food companies to provide basically unhealthy food so cheaply to begin with. And that’s really the issue more so then the darn toys.

  • Reply April 5, 2011

    Selfish Mom

    I think being a parent is hard, and a lot of people look for ways to make it easier. But it’s not NYC’s job to say no for us. These toys target kids who are way too young to go to McDonald’s themselves, so I think a large part of the motivation is to stop kids from whining and bugging their parents. But that approach just puts the problem off until later. Figure out a strategy for allowing your kids reasonable access to things that won’t kill them if used in moderation and it won’t matter if a meal comes with a doll or not.

  • Reply April 5, 2011


    I think this is silly. It’s the parents job to control what our kids do and do not eat. Like someone else pointed out, if they are trying to control childhood obesity (even though I feel strongly it should be the parents job), then offer healthier choices instead of getting rid of the toy.

  • Reply April 5, 2011


    Why doesn’t nyc address why its cheaper to feed a child a happy meal than whole natural foods? Banning toys?? that’s knee-jerk to the real problem– that working families must make decisions every day in this city that deal with economics and resources. if you can feed a kid for 2-3 dollars and no dishes to wash in your tiny apt, that’s a “smarter” decision than the 7-8 dollars per child it would cost to cook a whole meal at home… and that assumes your nabe even has grocery stores, which many do not. Signed–bedstuy resident

  • Reply April 5, 2011


    I think it is silly. It should be up to the parents weather they will let their kids eat this type of food or not.

  • Reply April 5, 2011

    Club TUKI

    We’re all for not using advertising and toys to lure kids to fast food. More should be done. But this is a first step to send a message to large corporations, to stop the manipulation of our chidren and parents.

    Parents too can train kids to use the fast forward button on their DVR. Or simply use Netflix and fill up the watch instantly queue with commercial free programs of their choice and have kids watch on the computer instead of TV.

    Better yet, have the kids log onto a kids educational game site where they can learn and be entertained for free with ClubTUKI! There’s a membership option to win prizes too. Imagine kids learning about geography, math, typing, safety and even how to balance a checkbook.

  • Reply April 5, 2011


    Nooooooooooooooo! Say it ain’t so! We don’t go that often, but when we do, we go for the toys.

  • Reply April 5, 2011


    As someone who feeds my kids McDonald’s happy meals only occasionally, I don’t think the toy does any harm at all. On those evenings when we are driving the kids all over town to practices, and need something for dinner that’s quick and easy, McDonald’s can be a convenient option, and the toy makes it that much more appealing to the kids. In any case, many restaurants make themselves more appealing to kids, whether with paper tablecloths and crayons, or singing waiters…. are we going to start policing those establishments as well?

  • Reply April 5, 2011


    The problem is not the toy. I like the occasional happy meal toy as those are the ones we leave in the car. However, I think this is just another example of the government trying to parent because there are some out there who would rather be their kids friend than there parent. I often tell my son, “I’m not here for you to like me, I’m here to turn you into a responsible functioning adult member of society.”

    I’m not trying to raise a child, we have far to many of them. I’m trying to teach him to make right choices now while the consequences aren’t as life changing. IMHO. I agree with an earlier comment that would like to see more healthy choices available. That way we can teach them to make the healthy choice.

  • Reply April 5, 2011


    Why just the toys? How about the entire Happy meal? It’s all marketing, not just the toys. The entire notion sounds good, albeit ridiculous. I’m in favor of a Healthy Happy Meal. Why not?

    My kids, for whatever reason, won’t eat McDonald’s food -we don’t ever go- so I suppose I cannot fairly weigh in.

  • Reply April 5, 2011


    Cara – there is a happy meal that fits your criteria
    Go to the nutrition calculator, add 1% milk, apple slices with caramel and grilled cheese sandwich
    370 calories, 13g fat. More sodium that I would like, but not much more than in canned foods.

    Healthy choices exist at McDonalds if you really want them. Kids need to learn that they can have the less healthy stuff once in a while only, but learn to identify what is better and choose it more often.

    Dont blame McDonalds. People can make their own choices, and until the kids are old enough, parents can make them for kids.

  • Reply April 5, 2011


    I don’t know about other kids but mine play with toys for the duration of the time we are at McDonald’s by the time we get home they could care less about the toy and it ends up in the donation bag a week later. But at the moment of getting the happy meal the toy is a huge deal. We don’t go out to eat with the kids very often. Instilling a strong sense of nutrition in our kids is very important to us and should be to all parents. I don’t think anyone should force a parent to feed their kids a certain way. When we do go I let my kids have some of my fries. No matter what a person/company does people are going to raise their kids how they see fit.

  • Reply April 5, 2011

    Angela Vickers

    It seems most of the comments above are from most likely middle income (although middle income is barely above low income anymore) families who apparently only choose McD’s when they are in a hurry or as a treat. The people who are buying this food 4-5 nights a week (someone should find out what demographic that really is) aren’t even reading this site. I would venture to say they are a large portion of the low income/impoverished people of our country who are killing 2 birds with one stone – quick cheap food and a toy to boot. McD’s has added “healthier” items to their menu in the last few years, lowfat yogurt parfait, apple dippers, milk, salads, and now the new oatmeal. But bottom line is with the economy in a slump the size of the grand canyon and healthy foods like fruits and veggies costing a pretty penny and the fact that in most families the key to survival is 2 working parents (if they haven’t been laid off) there are very few roads open to many of majority of non-wealthy Americans, and sometimes McD’s wins. Banning toys will not fix any of those things and McD’s will endeavor to come up with a new marketing plan to draw in business sans toy. Like perhaps a few commercials with a little cartoon girl and a song my 4 year old can sing every word of…not a single toy in the ads…

  • Reply April 5, 2011


    A silly red-herring. Hey Politicians try doing the hard stuff…make sure parents have jobs, earn living wages, have clean water and air and the availability of health care. Once you’ve done all that you can raise my children.

  • Reply April 5, 2011

    Lisa Marz

    I actually like many of the happy meal toys…. they have had some keepsake ones over the years…. As we usually only get the fun meals when we are traveling, the toy is also a nice distraction for the car ride and an incentive to get them to eat something. I would rather see them do away with the extra packaging of the happy meal.

  • Reply April 5, 2011


    I think the point was missed… they aren’t ‘banning’ the toys, they are simply restricting them to only meals that have more healthy options. Makes a child choose do you want fries, or do you want to switch them for apples and get a toy? Sounds like a great incentive and teaching opportunity to me!

  • Reply April 5, 2011


    Ensuring that all children in this country have access to quality food and nutrition should be a top priority of our government. Offering toys with junk food only encourages children to want/make bad choices they don’t really understand anyway. Why not offer toys with a healthy meal?

  • Reply April 5, 2011


    There is an excellent article debating this topic on Why the Happy Meal is a crime–and not just a culinary one:

  • Reply April 6, 2011


    The government has no business telling anyone what to eat, or what they may or may not purchase for their children.

  • Reply April 6, 2011


    My kids like the toys.

    But they like the food more.

    Kids want to eat fast food because it’s yummy. Think about it: when you take them to a sit down restaurant (whenever you feel crazy enough to take that on!) what are they going to order? Once and awhile, my daughter would pick spaghetti or something like that. But my son will always ask for “ketchup and fries”. He doesn’t care about the rest of the meal, just those two.

    My kids MIGHT pick the healthier option to get the toy once or twice. But then they’d just want the fries.

    But since we only go about 4 times a YEAR, it’s not much of an issue around here!

  • Reply April 6, 2011


    This is ridiculous…
    It is all up to the parents, a 3-7 year old isn’t walking into McDonalds on their own. Like most of the posters here, we go so rarely, that it is a treat. That’s how it was for me growing up. It wasn’t dinner, it was a special treat. Parents need to educate their children on some of the healthier choices they offer. When we do go, my 4 year asks for Chicken Nuggets (no sauce) apples and milk. The choices are there, parents just have to let the kids know which is better for them. They still get the toy, whether its apples or fries…
    Like there isn’t enough going on in NY for the politcos to work on. I find it hard to believe that McDonalds is at the top of their hit list…

  • Reply April 6, 2011


    I think the government should stay out of it. McDonalds offers ‘healthy’ alternatives (apples instead of fries, for example.) – it’s up to us to guide our children to make the healthy decision. In our family, fast food is a rarity, a treat. Sometimes my daughter picks the apples, sometimes the fries; sometimes the milk, sometimes she asks for a soda. But since it’s a treat I let her go with her choice. The problem is when fast food is a family’s main source of food. But that’s the way it is for many families. That’s the sad part but I am no sure it’s the government’s place to ‘fix’ it.

  • If I want to give my kid a Happy Meal with a toy, it’s my choice. If other parents aren’t capable of saying no to their children, banning Happy Meal toys isn’t going to fix that. Talk about missing the forest for the trees. We should probably ban candy in supermarket aisles, video game advertising, and juice boxes while we’re at it. Because, you know, parenting is HARD.

  • Reply April 10, 2011


    I think that the government of NYC probably has more important things to worry about than Happy Meal Toys. And it’s a step too far– parents need to be able to make decisions about what and where to feed their kids. We have to make choices every day about whether to buy the sugary cereal the kids love, or the healthy one. The yogurt with their favorite character, or the one without extra sugar and food coloring. And it’s about teaching our children to make those same choices for themselves.

    Yes, McD’s uses it as a marketing ploy, and it works. So do coupons, and other sales incentives– will those be banned one day because they might make us buy things we don’t need?!

  • Reply April 10, 2011


    If I remember the original news story correctly, the mom who filed/is filing the lawsuit against McDonalds said she can’t say “no” when her toddler asks over and over for a Happy Meal. Last time I checked, and I know in my home this is the case, the parents are the bosses not the kids. My children (2 1/2 and 4 years old) are more than welcome to ask (politely) for anything. However, we are teaching them the difference between wanting something and needing something, and that quite frankly you’re not always going to get everything you ask for (nor should you).
    Parents need to step up and stand firm and say “no.” It’s our job as parents to help our kids learn to make healthy choices. And, though there may be no official studies on this, I’m pretty sure no child has ever died from a temper tantrum.

    (For the record my kids to get the occasional Happy Meal, maybe 4 to 6 in a year, double that if you include other fast food places. If there’s a toy I know my kids would love we’ll ask if we can buy an extra toy—-sometimes they’ll do it, depends on the location.)

  • Reply April 10, 2011


    So so so true Deirdre! Why does it cost more to eat well and why are we subsidizing corn (syrup) and not broccoli?
    One a side note, and to comment to these other folks, please watch the video Consuming Kids. It’s well worth two hours. You can watch it online.

  • Reply April 25, 2011

    Christy R.

    I wish they would keep the toy, but only if the kid makes a healthy choice, like apples instead of fries and apple juice or milk instead of soda. That way you can say to your kids “if you get the apples instead of fries, you get a toy…” that would be my dream come true!

  • Reply May 29, 2011

    Todd @zerotofamily

    You know, McDonald’s has been an industry leader as far as changing dietary options in fast food. Are they saints? Far from it. But they could always follow in their own footsteps and take it to the next level. Find some influential icons for kid oriented commercials that tell them that eating healthy is a great idea. Match that to a catchy slogan, which they are masters at already. Then offer some truly healthy choices for kids to eat. And while we’re ramping this idea up…why not offer the coolest of toys with the healthiest of meal choices.

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