It’s a Happy Meal, right? So why aren’t I smiling?

The Happy Meal is actually a gateway drug to a lifetime of obesity isn’t it? Ronald McDonald, you are one wickedly clever clown.

A few times a week our 3-year-old son asks for French fries. Sometimes it’s when he’s getting picked up from day care and sometimes it’s when we’re out running errands and we cruise through a part of town with some fast food joints. He doesn’t even need to see the restaurant. If we get to an intersection he’s familiar with and he knows that there’s a McDonald’s several blocks ahead we’ll hear an excited call for fries burst out of his mouth.

The little man fell hard for those delicious little cuts of potato several months ago and there’s been no looking back. He digs’em, big time. And we love him, big time. Which leads us to treating him and his 1 1/2 –year-old sister to Happy Meals as often as a couple of times a week.

Why not? It makes the kids happy (McDonald’s nailed it when they named these things), saves us some time at dinner or lunch, and amuses them anywhere from 10 seconds to a whole 24 hours with the utterly worthless toys that come with every grease-laden calorie bomb.

But all these Happy Meals are leading a little problem. Dad’s been swooping in and absent-mindedly finishing off what they leave behind.

Our daughter will eat just about anything so if you give her half a cheeseburger she’ll knock off anywhere from 90 to 75 percent of it. Hand the other half to our notoriously picky son and there’ll still be half a cheeseburger sitting there when he leaves the table to play in about 10 or 15 minutes. The same goes for chicken nuggets.

As for the French fries, our son treats fries the way Cookie Monster treats cookies and more often than not he lays waste to every bit of crispy potato put in front of him while our daughter leaves a handful at the dining room table by the time she’s done chowing down.

The fatter Americans get, the more he smiles. OK, maybe I’m being a little too hard on the guy. It’s not like anyone puts a gun to our head and makes us buy lard bombs from McDonalds.

All in all, that leaves a handful of fries and a little more than half a cheeseburger and a few chicken nuggets behind for Distract-O Dad to scarf down in between chasing the kids around the house after they decide they’ve had enough of that whole sit-still-in-one-place-and-eat-thing. That’s not a ton of calories to add to my weekly regimen but when you add it up over several weeks and months it starts to register on the bathroom scale.

About a year ago when I started this blog I cut way back on fast food and what little I did eat was far better than what I was indulging in before I started paying attention to what I was shoving down my gullet. I was going for turkey burgers and grilled chicken sandwiches and gravitating toward side salads or just splitting a small order of fries with my wife. Not bad for a guy who usually went for the biggest, greasiest thing on the menu while enjoying every single artery-clogging bite.

But now I’m sabotaging myself by giving in to the easy temptation of finishing off what looks like a harmless little bit of fast food that my kids leave at the table. Once you wrap your head around the cold, hard fact that you can’t out-exercise a bad diet you come to the conclusion that the iconic Happy Meal ultimately doesn’t lead to a happy place even in small doses.

For now I think my kids can get away with eating Happy Meals if we only indulge them a couple of times a week at the most. They have the amped up metabolism of a small animal and spend almost every waking moment running around so the calories Ronald McDonald (you’re an evil little clown) throws at them are quickly burned off.

But for this old man, a little bit of a Happy Meal here and there is a dangerous thing.


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