Gluten-Free Happy Meals

I originally posted this last summer, but I thought I would do an update with better pictures.

Last week, I took the boys to see “How To Tame Your Dragon” (a really GREAT movie by the way)! I loved the underlying message of the movie and thought it very appropriate for Sam, who has been struggling this school year to accept the things that make him “different” among his peers. I thought this movie was the perfect representation of the concept that “different” is not synonymous with bad, wrong, unworthy, etc. It was a good self-esteem builder for Sam (as it played out in his language). Click here for a website that Mike found, called Movie Mom. Nell Minow does a good job of breaking down movies to help parents decided if they want to take their child to a particular film.

Sam is 6 and Luke is 2 1/2 and I took both of them. Sam had no problems and didn’t even catch the “breastplate” comment. Luke was only half interested in the movie because I bought him a package of M&M’s (NOTHING trumps chocolate with that child!). Luke did manage to wear the 3-D glasses throughout most of the movie and only commented a couple of times that “the dragons are loud.”

ANYWAY, the reason I brought up the movie is because I treated the boys to a “mama-made” Happy Meal after the movie, complete with the “How To Tame Your Dragon” toy that is currently being offered at McDonald’s. I am catching on to their marketing techniques to children! It is ALL about the packaging and the toy for kids. Well, at least for my 6 and 2 year old!

Well, I can play that game too! 😉

So here is how I do it. Every now and then I go to McDonalds (always at an off time like 3 pm, because this confuses the heck out of the staff! “You want a Happy Meal with no food but all the boxes???” YEP!) I like to buy about 10 at a time so I have enough for Sam and Luke to get 5 each over the course of a few months (it’s a TREAT, not a staple!). With the Happy Meal packaging (including the chicken nugget boxes, french fry sleeves, cups, lids, etc.) and all 10 toys, it costs about $16.00, give or take. I then take the stuff home for assembly and storage (the extras store nicely in a 2 gallon HEFTY Storage Bag).

The "Loot."

It had been a long time since I have been into McDonald’s and I couldn’t help but notice the messages on the bags:

Have you seen this yet experiment yet? I’m not convinced the fry “Gold Standard” is all about the potato varieties!!

Please define "pure" beef for me.

Gotta love marketing! If I hadn’t been watching all these food documentaries (and if I actually ate at McDonald’s, which I don’t because it is not a risk I want to take for myself or Sam with celiac disease), then I would probably be swayed into believing that what I was eating was the picture of fresh, “real” food! (I love the add-in of suggesting your favorite All-Natural Newman’s Own salad dressing… makes you think everything else is “All-Natural!”

Oh boy, I’ve gotten myself started! Let me get back to the Happy Meal before I gross myself out! 😉

All the “must-have” components for a “mama-made” gluten-free Happy Meal!

I get it ALL, down to the napkin!

I'm surprised that with the "All-Natural" image it seems McDonalds is trying to project, that they would still be using a ketchup with HFCS! But I guess they don't count on folks reading the microscopic ingredient labels, (or that one gluten-free blogger mom would use the zoom lens on her camera to post it on the web, LOL!) ;-D

Lately, for the fries, I have been using Ore-Ida’s Extra Crispy Fast Food French Fries (which I bake, not fry). I am not saying or even implying that these are “healthier” than McDonalds French Fries, but they don’t appear (unless there is some “hidden source” I am not away of) to contain TBHQ or Dimethylpolysiloxane like McDonalds does. I am flying blind here and educating myself on Wikipedia, so if this information is wrong, please let me know. I have no “hidden agenda,” I am just a mom who wants to make better choices for her family. It is difficult when you have zero formal education to help you understand this stuff!

For the chicken nuggets, I use Allergy Free Foods Chicken Nuggets, which are not only gluten-free, but they are dairy-free, egg-free, peanut-free, soy-free, and tree-nut free too! You can buy these in smaller units at The Gluten Free Mall. I used to buy them on QVC, but they are no longer available there. The Allergy Free Foods Chicken Nuggets are really good “kid style” chicken nuggets, even I love them! They are not cheap though so I use them for special occasions like GF Happy Meals!

I only buy Happy Meals when they are available in the box, because that is what I remember getting growing up… not the bag! Sam and Luke like to wear them as hats for some reason…

Sam has finally weaned off of the “Sweet & Sour” sauce that he liked from his gluten-days and ketchup works just fine now. Normally, I only buy Whole Food’s 365 Organic Ketchup… it is so good!

Don’t forget the toy!

Have you seen “Supersize Me?” We saw it back in October for the first time and I guess that was the beginning of my decent into “food madness,” so to speak!

If you are interested, check out the trailer:

You can see the entire documentary here for free!

The next film I saw was Food, Inc.:

Then the next, King Corn:

Needless to say, I feel rather awkward making this post, based on what I now know.  However, I have a 6 year old and a 2 1/2 year old that I have to keep in mind.  I struggle everyday with making these “copy cat” versions of the “new American” comfort foods that come in a box or can be “nuked” in 2:30, if stirred once at 1:30 (you know what I mean if you understand that jargon!).  WHAT HAPPENED TO OUR FOOD?!?!  We simply cannot do nothing any longer.  I for one have decided to embrace the competition and accept it for what it is: powerful, well-financed, and politically connected.  I can either complain about how I wish it were different (which it will never be) or Mike and I can teach our boys the difference between the TOY and the FOOD!  And sometimes I think about how this great life lesson will translate into later morality tales.  What a great introduction into the difference between marketing versus substance.  As Mike likes to say, “Good suits cost money,” and that is true.  You get what you pay for, and good food costs money, and it doesn’t come from the drive-up window…it comes from Momma’s kitchen!!  And regardless of what anyone says, MOMMA JUST MADE A QUASI-HEALTHY GLUTEN-FREE HAPPY MEAL!! 😉

I believe you have to meet people where they are. Two steps closer is usually better than one step behind.


Thank you to McDonalds for selling me the Happy Meal components so I could make this post.  Please do not put a “DO NOT SELL TO THIS WOMAN” photo behind all of your cash registers in America. 😀

10 Responses

  1. As always, I love your posts. You speak MY mind, lol. I too go to McDonalds and only buy the “toy” (and drink). My kids do not need the box or food though. I’ve been talking to them for a while now the differences between McDonald’s food and mommas food. You know, I don’t believe my McDonalds would even sell me all those components either. They BARELY want to sell me just the toy.

    • Lisa,

      I agree with you on the box! I am currently trying to undo the “need” for the clones that I, in fact, created with my kids!

      Truth be told, when I started making these, it was more for me. I cannot tell you how many times people have remarked that they “feel sorry” for Sam because he would never get to have a McDonald’s Happy Meal, etc., etc.

      Knowing that I was Sam’s celiac gene contributor, those comments just made me feel bad, and they made my “mommy guilt” even worse. Making Sam his own gluten-free Happy Meal made ME feel better at the time. My personal journey on the road to accepting my diagnosis has been about so much more than the food.

      I am a work in progress no doubt. Just realizing the motivation behind why I do what I do, has involved a couple of years worth of hard work on my part. I am now ready to take it to the next level by showing and teaching my boys HOW to do better, and that includes NOT getting sucked into all the materialistic trappings that I have been falling for my entire life…

  2. Congrats to you for making the efforts to make a Happy Meal that won’t make your kids sick. I realize that it’s a treat for them – as this type of food should be – and I hope that as they grow older, they’ll realize how much thanks and credit you deserve for your hard work! You’re a good mom!

    • Thanks Alta!

      There are many lessons to be learned on this Happy Meal idea, I think. 🙂

      My hope though is that they take away this: how to “think outside the box” and come up with a solution that works for all involved.

  3. I love your blog, I had the exact same problem with my first born wanting all the same foods and hot lunch as her peers it was a struggle for two years we would cry over it ,seems silly but fitting in is so important to the little guys, anyway instead of the daily fights we moved her to a school where they did not offer hot lunch and the school is full of like minded parents also many have food allergies so we do not have any food problems any more:-) my next two children grew up in this food safe enviroment so they do not even know any different they do not even have a clue about Fast food they thinks it’s all called burgerbell, I would like people to know that changing the eviroment your kids are in can change your lives:-)

    • Ashley,

      You are definitely correct about “fitting in.” I think it is easy for a parent to forget what it is like to be that age.

      As a 36 year old, I KNOW that it shouldn’t matter how a food “looks,” and yes it does seem silly, but that does not change the fact that it is a very big deal for some kids. I have chosen to compromise with Sam (mom’s food, McDonald’s packaging), while he is working through these issues rather than demand ideological purity from him at an age when he cannot remotely begin to understand that the world is not always black and white, but many many shades of gray.

      I believe that issues like these fall into the gray area. Rather than present them as black or white and run the risk that as a teenager, Sam will feel the only choice for him as he goes through his “rebellion” is to choose the exact opposite of what I have tried to teach him. My feeling is that I can fight a small battle today or lose the war tomorrow.

      I understand how difficult these decisions are and how we torture ourselves to come up with the right solution. Every family’s situation is different and I believe that it is critical for us to support each other in the decisions we all struggle to make. Keep up the good work! 😉

  4. I need to watch King Corn, I LOVE Supersize Me and Food, Inc. You are so funny, this is awesome. The lengths that you go to for those kids!! I hope they realize how lucky they are when they grow up!

  5. You are an amazing Mother and a godsend to all parents with children who have Celiacs.

    • Jackie,

      What a kind thing to say, thank you! That is my hope by posting these little ideas of mine. I think they are good not only for children with celiac disease or with food allergies, but parents of children without dietary restrictions could also do this, not only to save money, but to put healthier alternatives, like baked chicken nuggets and fries (or something different altogether!) in the packaging. That’s all that really matters to most young kiddos anyway, and McDonald’s (as well as other fast food companies), know that, because that is what they emphasize on TV ads!

      One of the best things I have done recently is turn off the TV more often, just so my boys aren’t fed these ideas on a continual basis! I still have to help Sam when he is with his friends and classmates, but when he is at home we just talk about his feelings and bigger issues like being okay and happy with who he is. He will get there, but in the meantime, building his self-confidence is my main objective. 🙂

  6. […] and I really want to share it with you, especially since I just posted my version of a mama made gluten-free Happy Meal. While I make them on occasion for my celiac son who cannot have a “drive thru” Happy […]

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