When I was growing up, my family very rarely ate fast food. Eating at McDonald's or Wendy's was a special event in which I savored every moment, from picking out my drink to filling the little cups with ketchup. I can even remember the first time I was allowed to order a whole adult-sized meal without being forced to share it with my sister. Treating fast food as a special event not only was less expensive for my family, but it was also far healthier for all of us.
Of course, that all changed when I hit high school, and our open campus lunch time--along with the close proximity of fast food restaurants--meant I ate out nearly every day. The habit of eating fast food whenever convenient has never left me. Even though I know it is far cheaper and healthier to make food at home, it's a fairly common occurrence for me to go through the drive-thru on my way home from church.
I am not alone in my fast food ways. Americans now spend $110 billion on fast food every year, more than they spend on education, computers, and cars. This has, in part, lead to the obesity epidemic we see in children, youth, and adults in our country. Every day a family's food choices influence their health. On any given day, 30% of kids are eating junk food and consuming an extra 187 calories per day. While this may not seem like much, over the course of a year it adds up to six extra pounds. If the trend continues over time, we begin to see students who are 60 pounds overweight or more before they reach Junior High.
Nutrition advocates nationwide are putting the pressure on fast food restaurants to stop marketing to children, including removing advertising during children's shows and taking out toys in any unhealthy kid's meal. There has also been a resumed push for McDonald's to quit using their kid-friendly clown mascot, Ronald McDonald. They argue the fancy advertising and exciting toys makes it too tempting for kids to make poor food choices that directly lead to obesity.
These activists have had some recent success. Two California counties have banned restaurants from handing out toys with kid's meals that are high in calories, fat, and sodium. In May, fast food restaurant Jack in the Box eliminated the toys in their kid's meal. At the same time Jack in the Box added new food choices for their kid's meals, including apples with caramel instead of fries.
When announcing the change, however, Jack in the Box made it clear that their decision had nothing to do with recent pressure for fast food restaurants to stop marketing to children. Instead, they argued they have always offered healthy options in kid's meals and the decision to stop giving out toys was simply to save money because they sold so few kid's meals.
McDonald's is likewise fighting to avoid making any changes in their marketing to children. They also argue that their kid's meals include healthy options like low-fat milk and apple slices with caramel dipping sauce, and instead of taking the toys out of their meals, they announced June is Pokemon month, with a free figurine of the popular video game in each Happy Meal.
This nationwide argument has made me seriously consider the kinds of foods we serve in our ministries. We do lunch after our late worship service during the summer, and often we go to a fast food restaurant rather than somewhere more healthy or expensive. I order pizza at least once a month for one event or another. Anytime I purchase snacks they seem to be processed, calorie-laden foods that have no nutritional value. And I don't think I'm the only one who serves food like this in ministry.
If we want to promote the health and upkeep of the bodies God has blessed us with, why are we making poor food choices for ministry? Perhaps we should be listening to the healthy eating advocates just as much as the fast food industry. We, like these fast food restaurants, are marketing greasy, sweet, unhealthy food to our youth.
It may be time for ministries to consider putting a small amount of extra time and money into fresh fruits and vegetables instead of Doritos and pushing water instead of Mountain Dew. There are some who would argue the kids won't eat that kind of healthy food, but we won't know until we try. I would like to think we could be pleasantly surprised at the number of youth who are not only willing to eat healthier, but who will feel better because of it. In the end, it would serve us well to consider not just the fast food industries but ourselves, as well, as we do our part to support the healthy lives of our children, youth, and families.