Our Family Time, Happy Time McGetaway

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

Early in the morning, June 16th, Shaun, F&B and I headed out to DFW and caught a flight to O'Hare airport in Chicago.

From there, we were escorted to Oak Brook and the McDonald's corporate campus. We met our hosts for the weekend and settled F&B in our rooms, where they immediately tore into the welcome gifts from the team. They certainly knew how to win my kids' hearts right off the back, F&B were thrilled to have new goodies to open and play with (can't say Shaun & I were disappointed either, everyone we met was amazingly nice). Shaun took F&B to the pool for a bit while I headed out to meet the rest of the corporate team and the other moms. An hour later, Shaun, the kids, and the rest of the families joined us for a larger meet & greet, followed by a BBQ. Ben hit it off with Ro & Ree (SalsainChina's twin girls) and Faith found a sweet little girl named Lauren to hang out with (her mom works for McDonald's and we saw them throughout the trip but more on that later).

It was amazing & busy & so much fun! Since I can barely keep it all straight in my head, I'm just going to go with some of the highlights, which may or may not be in chronological order.

Thursday morning, we opted for an early wake-up, took the kids down for breakfast at the hotel, and headed out for a family scavenger hunt on the campus. It's a seriously beautiful area, I miss living in the north! Tons of trees, a pretty lake in the middle of it, lots of walking trails. It reminded me of the corporate campuses by us, with more foliage. F&B had a blast on the scavenger hunt and we ran into several of the other families too. The weather was also a whole lot better in Dallas. The day before, our driver at O'Hare told us it was "so hot" there. It was maybe 80. We had just left nearly 100 degrees at 6am. 80 is downright balmy, just in case you are curious. ;o) Needless to say, we enjoyed a lovely morning outdoors that did not have to involve a pool.

After we finshed scavenger hunting, we headed out to meet everyone for lunch at the local McDonald's, followed by a Q&A session with the President and 2 VPs of McDonald's USA. F&B ditched us to hang out with the other kids, so we had a nice grown-up conversation with SalsainChina & her husband and Bonggamom. I had a very lovely frozen orange smoothie thing that tasted like a creamsicle and F&B got Shrek watches in their Happy Meals which made their day. We'll just pretend that Ben can tell time, he thinks he can. Since they had a full child-care staff for our kids, F&B headed back to the hotel with the rest of the kids and some of the dads (Shaun wanted to stay and listen to the Q&A session).

The Q&A session was so interesting. I absolutely love that the president and both of the VPs are women and moms. A lot of the concerns voiced by our group are concerns they share, including healthy choices for their kids. They shared their own stories, how they came to work for McDonald's, and about their families. The current president started out working in a restaurant herself, which I thought was amazing to hear. From their discussion, I found out that 40% of owners are either minorities or women and that the company spends over $5 billion/year with minority suppliers. They also talked about the company's commitment to their charities--Ronald McDonald House, how the owners/operators work with the charities, and their company volunteer program. They spent several hours with us answering questions on products, on healthier choices, kids' meals, toys, pretty much anything you could imagine to ask.

We headed back to the corporate campus for another information session, this time with the marketing VPs and directors, talking about McDonald's commitment to children & families. They had out a display of Happy Meal toys over the years, which reminded me how, growing up in Canada, I always wanted the toys we saw on the commercials from the American stations that were never available in Canada. They did have out the very cool Halloween buckets. I did have one of those. They also talked about developing the play places and how around 4800 of their US restaurants now have them. Another growing up in Canada story for you. 25 years ago, Play Places weren't that common and the McDonald's in our town didn't have one. I always wanted to try one. And yes, I have, with F&B.

The VP shared how they have chosen to market the Happy Meals now versus 20+ years ago, with milk, apple slices, and chicken nuggets (versus fries, soda & hamburger), which brings the meal under 400 calories. The apples are a 1/2 serving of fruit, which isn't a bad addition. They also showed us Happy Meals around the world and the offerings--kiwi in Italy, pineapple in France, corn in several Asian markets, cherry tomatoes in Brazil, grapes with the apples in (I think) Australia. However, in the US, the market doesn't support these options. I find that a rather interesting commentary on US nutrition as a whole. A restaurant is willing to provide a healthier option, test markets it and everything, but there is no demand for it? Sad. Plus, my kids would really love having pineapple as a choice. *I* would really like pineapple as a choice. They also introduced us to their 2 new fundraising programs--a portion of each Happy Meal & Mighty Kids Meal is going towards Ronald McDonald House Charities and a new online widget will be available soon which will also benefit RMHC. I'll share that as soon as I have a copy of it.

That evening, we headed out to the Ronald McDonald House in Chicago for dinner, a tour of their facility and of their Caremobile (a mobile medical clinic). Ronald McDonald Houses serve over 7000 families daily in over 30 countries by allowing parents to stay close by their children in the hospital. Meals are provided daily by a volunteer staff so it is one less thing for the parents to worry about and they can concentrate on being with their child and getting them well. They also took us on a tour of their "Caremobile". It's a mobile medical clinic that partners with local schools and the community to help provide medical needs within the community. Some are staffed with nurses for basic healthcare, others have dentist for dental care, etc. Basically, it brings affordable care to kids right within their community, especially those who might not have access to it otherwise. We also got to hear a first person story of what Ronald McDonald House can provide for a family. Remember Faith's new little friend Lauren? She had heart surgery as a baby and her mom shared how it was RMHC that allowed her to stay by Lauren at the hospital as she lived over an hour away. Lauren is happy & healthy and going into third grade, so it's the type of story you just love to hear. She was playing with Faith for most of that evening. :o)

In the morning, we went back to the corporate headquarters for a breakfast sensory experience. The sensory science part was really interesting. It's not just a matter of preparing food or the ingredients, but the taste, the texture, the appearance, the aroma and the sound food makes when you bit into it (think crispy apples). After explaining all of the information behind it, they brought out Egg McMuffins, McGriddles and Apple Dippers to eat as examples. Possibly the best Egg McMuffin I have ever eaten (obviously fresh off the grill)! I also discovered I loved the McGriddle Cakes, how can you go wrong with pockets of maple syrup right inside your pancake? F&B also enjoyed the whole crispy apple part and kept biting them to make them crunch.

Breakfast was followed by a behind the counter tour of the corporate McDonald's restaurant. Faith decided to stay with us for this tour and Shaun pointed out all the things that were the same as when he worked at McDonald's in high school. The manager took us through their restaurant and showed us the (few) differences between the corporate one and stand alone restaurants, most of which had to do with being on the 3rd floor of a building. She showed us the process of making an Egg McMuffin (real Grade A eggs, cracked into a mold on the grill to make the cool round shape, I want a mold now!) and walked us through how they assemble the salads fresh daily in the restaurants. We also got to see the new espresso machines they use to make the coffee drinks, Shaun sampled one of those and loved it.

This was followed by an introduction to creating new products and health concerns, including calorie issues, the process of creating the new Berry Smoothies and a focus group on the Fruit & Maple Oatmeal. The director of US nutrition walked us through creating a 600 calorie meal at McDonald's (not as hard as you might think) . Why 600? If a US diet is 2000 cal (for example), 600 is well within the range of acceptable for a meal. I found that many, many new products are tested, but few make the final menu cut. Customer demand is paramount and only those that will have the demand necessary make the menu. As well, planning is key. For the new fruit smoothies, we were told that their demand would have taken 1/3 of the US blackberry crop to create and put in restaurants, so the launch had to be preplanned by *years* to make sure enough berries were grown, as not to affect the rest of the market. They also had to contract fields in China a year in advance for enough edamame for Asian salads.

The morning ended with Ben's highlight of the trip, cooking with "Chef Dan", McDonald's head chef. This was what he talked about all week, once we read him the agenda. We went back to the test kitchens where the kids got to make fruit kebabs with yogurt dip in one kitchen and their own fresh fruit smoothie in the other kitchen. F&B absolutely love to help in the kitchen, so this was very impressive for both of them. Chef Dan was great with the kids, as were the two assistant chefs that helped out. And, of course, F&B never say no to fresh fruit.

We finished our getaway with lunch and a wrap-up of the weekend, including a chance to talk one last time one-on-one or two-on-one with the team, to share with them what we learned, what our concerns as parents are, etc. The four of us had an amazing time and are so grateful to the team at McDonald's for showing us such wonderful hospitality. We haven't been away as a family for awhile and it was great to get to spend some quality time together.

And there is still more fun!

McDonald's is also offering a special prize pack for a lucky winner!

Since the theme of the getaway weekend was "family time, happy time", it started my husband and I talking of some of the best things we've done together & with our kids.

So, to enter, leave a comment telling me your favorite family memory (as a kid or as a grown-up) HERE ONLY! Or feel free to ask me a question about the trip or what we learned there, I'll answer as best I can!

To get a second entry, blog or tweet this giveaway and leave a second comment below with that link. Each person may enter twice.

Week 1: McDonald’s Family Fun Prize Pack

It includes a Smile tote bag, $25 AMC gift card, a $20 McDonald's Arch card, a fleece blanket, frisbee, french fry playing cards, Monopoly Junior game, organic lip balm, vintage character t-shirt, stainless steel tumbler, and Happy Meal Toys (approximate retail value = $100).

Meet the other wonderful bloggers I had the pleasure of meeting on this trip and enter the sweepstakes too.

Click here for the official rules.