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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

McDonald's family-time happy-time trip: musings, pictures, and giveaway

This is a sponsored post from BlogHer and McDonald's.

Is it ironic that I'm writing this McDonald's Family-Time Happy-Time trip review in a McDonald's restaurant? Heh. Seems a tad ironic to me. It's just that our family has been traveling the entire summer, and this week is no exception. We're up in Tahoe (again) and there is no internet access to be found in these mountains except at the local McD's. Funny. Anyhow…

A few weeks ago, McDonald's invited 10 blogging mamas and their families to corporate headquarters in Chicago and told us to bring every question we had because we would have access to everyone and everything. And boy did we! We got to meet with Jan Fields (President of McDonald’s USA), as well as the heads of Strategy, Menu, Human Resources, Marketing, Nutrition, and employees at every level from every group, it was a fantastic opportunity! You should have seen the mamas and their questions. I loved the fact that we met with Jan in a McDonald's restaurant instead of a fancy boardroom, by the way. I don't know, something about that just tickled me.D3X_9778_(1) IMG_1545LRa

One of the most popular presentations was with "The Chicken Doctor," whose real title was VP of Live Operations and Processing of Keystone Foods. There were SO many excellent questions for him, and I have to say that he faced the room full of mama bears with great humor and answered all of the questions very well. I'll let the other bloggers address these questions, since mine were mostly around menu options (below).

The questions I kept asking:

My wishlist was all about healthy options for kids. The Chicken McNuggets/Apple Dippers/Milk Jugs are a great start for Happy Meals  (they said one-third of the Happy Meals sold are this configuration – and that’s the only way the meals are advertised, which I appreciate), but wouldn't it just be awesome if McDonald's offered a wider variety of healthy options? Specifically, more fruit, vegetables, and non-fried items. I'd love to be able to order any of these for the twinados: applesauce cups, tiny bags of baby carrots or grapes, mandarin orange cups, mac and cheese, mini bags of snap peas and ranch dip, toasted cheese sandwiches, corn niblets, cups of rice, etc. I know that comes as no surprise to anyone since these are featured in so many bento meals that I pack for the kids. The McDonald's execs said they had actually test marketed almost all of those choices and ran into two problems: 1) there are strict choking hazard laws in the US and 2) even though people say they want healthy options, they don't buy them, and if a product doesn't sell, it is dropped from the menu. I can totally understand the choking hazard problem, but doesn't that just mean that some products need to be sliced or cut before packaging? A cut grape must be similar to a sliced apple, right? And we know the sliced apples are currently offered. In addition, and this is one I believe passionately in: there must be a huge monetary worth that would be attached to even the perception that McDonald's offers the widest variety of healthy options of any fast-food chain. Say if they offered five healthy alternatives in the Happy Meal menu -- no one could touch that, right? Some percentage of mamas (like me!) would be ecstatic and would snap these options up. For the rest, just call it an advertising fee, something like the "Get Healthy Eat Healthy Campaign."

Here's what I like:

1. McDonald's restaurants, anywhere that we travel, and we travel a lot (so far this summer we've been to Hawaii, Tahoe, Chicago, Utah, and back to Tahoe twice), are 100% consistent. We know what we're getting, we know what the kids can and will eat, and TubaDad and I know exactly what we can eat there that's on our diets (grilled chicken, salads, fruit and yogurt, eggs, etc.). It's iffy if we go somewhere else, especially in airports or on the road. We're not eating McDonald's every day (is anyone?), but I'd guess that we take the kids there two times a month and easily make healthy choices while we're there.

2. I also reallyreallyreally enjoyed visiting one of the Ronald McDonald Houses during this getaway weekend and seeing the daily operations. Wonderful place, wonderful concept, and it is helping so many families with sick kids. McDonald's pays for all of the administrative costs of RMHC, in case you're curious about the connection, like me. Here’s a video of our group in one of the houses: you can see that Ro and Ree fell asleep on the comfy bus and we carried them in:

IMG_1625LRa3. Pssst: I was grinning big during the sneak preview we all got of the new Fruit & Maple Oatmeal that's being test marketed right now. Yum, that stuff was awesome (which is saying a lot coming from someone who eats oatmeal for breakfast almost every day -- you'd be hard pressed to find a pickier oatmeal consumer) and I cannot wait until it’s available near us.

Here's what the girls like:

1. Chicken McNuggets (about the only fast food they'll eat, before this trip or after – no exaggeration).

2. All of the fun family-time events that McDonald’s packed into this trip. They loved the family bbq, scavenger hunt, paddleboat rental, sensory taste testing, and especially the chance to cook with Chef Dan in a McDonald’s kitchen. Here’s a short video McDonald's made where you can see Ro and Ree and all the kids making fruit kabobs and smoothies (that's me talking in the beginning of the video):

2. "That silly guy" (AKA: Ronald McDonald). Heh. They were so happy to hang out with TubaDad and I (and the other kids and the super-fun McDonald’s kid staffers) all weekend and get to meet the silly dude at each event. Yeah, they're pretty easy to please.IMG_1665LRa

The bottom line:

We're pretty healthy eaters in our family. No surprise there – you can see the kinds of meals I serve my kiddos on my blog. And we take our kids to McDonald's and choose healthy options for them and ourselves every time. I'm guessing you can make healthy or unhealthy choices anywhere that you go, from a fast-food chain to a five-star restaurant. I give McDonald's huge props for hosting a big bunch of mamas and giving us total access to their execs, test kitchens, and restaurants. I learned a lot, they did a great job of listening to our concerns and answering our questions, and now I'm going to click "send" on this review and go order a diet coke and a grilled chicken snack wrap. Heh.

The giveaway:

mcdonaldsprizes copyOne winner will be chosen to win a McDonald’s Family Fun Prize Pack, which includes a McDonald’s smile tote bag, $25 AMC gift card, $20 McDonald’s Arch card (can be used for any purchase at a McD’s), fleece blanket, frisbee, french-fry playing cards, Monopoly Junior Board Game, Organic Lip Balm, McDonald’s Vintage Character T-Shirt, a McDonald’s Stainless Tumbler, and a surprise set of Happy Meal toys.

To enter the giveaway, please help TubaDad and I in our travels and leave a comment letting me know about any healthy options you've found in any fast-food restaurant.

  1. Giveaway opens at 9am (PST) July 27 2010 and ends 5pm (PST) August 10, 2010.
  2. To get one extra entry, either blog or tweet about this promotion and leave an additional comment with the url of your tweet or blog post (two entries allowed per person).
  3. You can visit the other bloggers for 9 more chances to win or to read their awesome reviews. I just loved meeting all these folks.
  4. Check out the full text of the official rules.
  5. Entries/comments must be on topic and not offensive or derogatory.

Good luck everyone! Feel free to leave any questions you might have about the trip or McDonald’s here as well and I’ll try to get the answers.  Thanks!!