A natural foods junkie at McDonald's

He couldn't imagine anything good about fast-food places – until he took his son to one.

MICKEY D's: Customers eat a meal at McDonald's restaurant in Schiller Park, Ill.

They say that having kids changes everything, and it's true. Before becoming a parent, I never ventured into fast-food places. Actually, as a natural foods enthusiast who purchases local, organic food as much as possible, I avoided them altogether.

But a shift occurred when my mother suggested we stop at Wendy's because it had a place for my 3-year-old son to play. She ordered a coffee, I drank an orange juice, and my son immediately became absorbed in swinging on a set of soft monkey bars, making friends with several other toddler monkeys in the process.

A few days later, we stopped at a McDonald's with an indoor play area. My son soon settled into a seemingly endless loop of climbing up to the top of a big, blue spiraling tube and then sliding down. Every few minutes he would run over and take a drink of my water, and then disappear until I saw him beaming at me from behind one of those Plexiglas portals. Soon he was at the bottom again, sweaty and wanting more water.

When he needed to use the restroom, I was surprised to find child-size fixtures alongside the adult ones. This might not seem like a big deal, but in all my years of going to vegetarian restaurants and natural foods markets, I never remember seeing a kid-friendly bathroom. Surely, the people who work at such places are more likely to know about Maria Montessori and her belief that children need exactly these kinds of accommodations in order to feel comfortable in the world. Yet, it appears to have been McDonald's that introduced this innovation, as well as the PlayPlaces, into the world of commercial eateries.

And so I have had to revise my opinion of companies I formerly viewed in an entirely negative light. And I expect I'll keep taking my son to Wendy's, McDonald's, and Burger King. Not that they'll make much money off us: We've yet to consume anything other than bottled water, juice, and milk. But if they're so – dare I say it? – enlightened about things like kid-friendly bathrooms, they might eventually catch on and see that organic, whole foods are the way to go. Hey, if Ford and GM are finally going to offer hybrids and electric cars, then anything is possible.

Meanwhile, my wife is concerned that our toddler might get indoctrinated into unhealthy eating or "branded," just by spending time in fast-food places. I'm not worried about that for the time being, because he's never expressed an interest in eating at any of them, and, in fact, he doesn't even seem to be able to tell them apart.

The other day, referring to the aforementioned McDonald's, he said, "You know that Wendy's near my school that serves a lot of junk? Can you take me there to play?"

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