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Saturday, May 30, 2015

Why my healthy family LOVES MacDonalds

We cook a lot in our house. Of course we do – there are six of us. A Mum, a Dad, and four sons ranging from four years to thirteen.  We roast chickens, boil the bones for stock and actually use said stock for soup. We knead our own pizza dough, peel our own carrots and bake fish in tin foil. But, we’re normal too. Our kids, as well as eating healthy dinners, guzzle Nutella like drunks at closing time and would sell their souls off for a pack of purple Chewits. And if we ever buy crisps they are greedily hoovered up, gone before the rest of the shopping is put away.

What I am trying to say is that we eat quite well. Pizza deliveries and Chinese takeaways are not weekly things in our house. We don’t eat tonnes of biscuits, although we do eat some, and our children can name most vegetables.

 And yet, since our parenting years began, the only restaurant we have ever comfortably eaten in was McDonalds. And even now that our youngest is no longer a toddler, it’s still the only place I think there is any point in spending our money. A four year old doesn’t sit still or wait any length of time. His siblings also needs a considerable amount of wriggle room and while they will not always knock over an uncovered cup, they will nearly do so many times. This is not something I am willing to pay the privilege to watch. When you think about it, those Macdonalds lids give you an extra millisecond or two to save a knocked cup, before the spill actually happens. My goodness, how wonderful is that?

It’s not that they adore the food –although they nearly always finish what we order. It’s the speed in which we are served in and the surroundings that tolerate noise, movement and the normal bustle that comes with a few children. Mine can move around without me constantly saying “mind!” The chairs don’t tip over, there’s no tablecloth to pull on and no knives and forks to send clattering to the floor. I am making them sound quite feral – maybe they are – but I think their behaviour is average for Irish children.

When I am in a restaurant, I need to be able to relax long enough to swallow my food and, for more than two seconds at a time, move my eyes away from my children. And they in turn need to be able to swap seats, swap back, wriggle, sit on their knees, stare at the people at the next table and sing quietly. I don’t mean loud enough to disturb other people, but they need to be able to behave like children.

Another bonus of this much vilified and yet continually profitable chain is that I can order just a latte for myself along with their meals. And why not? I am paying for both after all. No one at MacDonald’s queries this or says “ONLY a latte for you? No food?”

 Nor do they carry piping hot plates to the people behind us, while our kids bounce excitedly in their seats, narrowly missing being burned. (I brought my then four year old son to a pizza restaurant once and he burnt his fingers on his own plate. Yes, a children’s meal was brought to the table on a scalding plate.)

Actually in recent years, if a MacDonalds employee approaches us at all, it is to clean our table, deliver some food or pass around balloons. (I know, those balloons on sticks are such a pain, but my youngest loves them.)

To be honest, I feel that in restaurants and cafes in Ireland, families like mine – noisy, more than two kids, are more tolerated than welcome. Not so in MacDonalds. There we are served our food and eat it in (usually) clean and bright surroundings. We can be ourselves and eat the food we have paid for.

There’s free parking just outside the door - in every MacDonalds – we take it for granted now but isn’t it nice not to think of parking for once? Surely I’m not the only person for whom the thought of circling for a space in a full car makes me want to cry? And looking for change for meters with hungry children breathing over my shoulder? I’m tired even thinking about it.

The fact that the food is grossly unhealthy and proven to rapidly deteriorate ones health is sadly, immaterial. We don’t eat in MacDonalds every week. But we do every time we need to eat out.

So, am I alone? Is there some fantastic child friendly, good value, healthy place I’m missing? If so, let me know!

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