I know, I know, no self-respecting, half-decent parent who worries about their children getting their obligatory five a day, would ever admit to being partial to a Mc Donald’s or taking their kids there on a regular basis, would they?
I don’t think my eldest child, now eight, and raised on a diet of Annabel Karmel and organic snacks, set foot in the fast-food behemoth until he was about four, but, two more children, later, my standards have dropped considerably and we now visit our local McDonald’s as ‘a treat’ at least once a month.
My love affair with the ‘Golden Arches,’ as we called it in my student days, began as a pre-teen when the first McDonald’s opened in my home town of Stratford upon Avon. It was a time when all things American (and Australian) were regarded in my young eyes (as a small-town, suburban girl) as cool and aspirational.
Mc Donald’s was symbolic with many of my icons and girl crushes – Michael J Fox, Matthew Broderick, Winona Ryder, Molly Ringwald, E.T., Kitt the Car and Tom Cruise to name but a few.
I can’t remember who it was that had a Mc Donald’s birthday party from my primary school but I thought it was the best thing ever. It was the first time I’d ever tried coca cola and I remember the sweet bubbles crackling and fizzing on my tongue. Ronald himself came out to meet us and there was a soft-play pit upstairs.
A few years later, my friend Hannah and I used to meet the boys from the local prep school there for dates, before heading off to the Bancroft gardens for a quick fumble or to the nearby Hilton to buy ciggies from the vending machine in the hotel lobby.
As a student, my housemates and I (who were collectively known as ‘the four blondes’) used to bypass the traditional Sunday lunch for a weekly trip to the Golden Arches all though I flirted briefly with KFC. I still have lovely, hazy memories of spending entire days in an ex-boyfriend’s room in our halls of residence with nothing but a Gap top, a pair of knickers and a KFC Family Bucket. The image of the silhouette of a cockerel’s head covered in KFC batter, which did the rounds on Facebook when I first joined, soon put a stop to that though. And it was Mc Donald’s I turned to as late night sanctuary when I first moved to London, after all those dates where you pretended or were genuinely too nervous to eat anything and were then hungry enough to eat your own arm off by the time the pub closed.
As a fully-fledged grown up (which I like to pretend I am), I have eaten in some of the smartest establishments across the globe. At the risk of sounding like a bragger, I’ve noshed down to sea urchin at El Bulli in Spain, slurped oysters in Whitstable and marvelled at the turbot at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxfordshire.
Mc Donald’s will always have a special place in my heart though and as a mum, I’ve rekindled my love affair with it. Here’s why:
1) I won’t be judged
Mc Donald’s is one of the few places I can take all three of my children on my own without being judged. They might climb on the table, have a screaming row over the last chicken nugget or squirt ketchup into their drink, but no one gives a monkey’s there. For that reason alone, I’m lovin it.
2) Open all hours.
My kids (especially the two boys) are almost always hungry and usually claim to be starving at the most inconvenient times. I can happily rock up at McDonald’s at these times and know that no one will bat an eye lid at me ordering two burgers or chicken nuggets for them before midday.
3) It’s super quick.
I know that I will be served within five minutes and that my children’s little tummies will be full within ten minutes of arrival. And that I will, as a result, have five minutes guaranteed peace. Priceless. It certainly beats sitting in a packed restaurant with people giving you filthy looks and trying to entertain three tired, hungry, grumpy kids whilst you wait half an hour for your food to arrive.
4) They will eat pretty much everything on the menu.
Two out of three of my little amigos will eat pretty much anything with a bit of encouragement. My eldest, however, the one who I breastfed solely for six months, lovingly fed homemade falafels and still buy salt-free butter for, is an absolute pleb and the fussiest eater of the lot. Mc Donald’s and Pizza Express are amongst the few places I can take him and know that he will not quibble at all over the menu.
5) The Happy Meal.
The connotations may be deeply wrong on a social, environmental and humanitarian level, but I freaking love a ‘happy’ meal. The kids love having a brightly coloured box to open and the fact that they all look identical means they don’t fight when they get them. We’ve still got some of the toys the children have received from them over the years too (including a Super Mario headband which our daughter insists on wearing upside down most days.)
6) Location location location.
Our nearest McDonald’s is situated just around the corner from our local soft-play pit, next door to Tesco, opposite Aldi and on the outskirts of town. Location wise, this ticks pretty much all the desperate parenting boxes. You can always park there and you can usually be in an out within half an hour. What’s not to like?
7) Drive Thru.
I think Drive Thru’s may have been invented for stressed out, time poor, knackered mamas with hungry mouths to feed. I have lost count of the times I have stopped off at a McDonald’s on the way back from a day out somewhere or after school when the cupboards (or rather the freezer!) are bare and my sanity has been stretched to the max. The fact that I may be in various states of disarray, sometimes with a baby attached to my nipple, and often with unwashed hair, just adds to its appeal.
Mc Donald’s – I’m lovin you.