You want your kids to eat well, but all they want are Happy Meals. Here’s what one parent did.

As kids get older, they experience  some newfound independence by practicing ideas and opinions separate from parents. And many of the strongest ideas revolve around food.

For years, we’ve raised our daughter to have healthy eating habits, and she’s been more or less great about it. Of course, she has her preferences: She won’t touch mashed potatoes for some reason (which made my wife almost doubt their genetic connection), but she’ll wolf down broccoli. And much to my breakfast-sharing delight, she doesn’t much care for bacon. But boy does she love to pile heaps of jam into her oatmeal.

When she was younger, and while I was taking care of her full-time, we had full control over nearly every meal she ate. I didn’t realize what a luxury that was until we put her in daycare a couple years ago. She’s in preschool now, and I know that the various places haven’t always fed her the meals that I’d most want her to eat. It wasn’t always organic, and more of it comes out of a box than I’d like, but for the most part she has gotten a well-balanced variety of healthy food.

But about six months ago, her grandmother began taking her out to the local fast-food restaurant, where they ate weekly Happy Meals and my daughter could play on the slides.

Well, of course, the kid was in heaven. She asked if we could go there every night, that she never wanted to go anywhere else. I tried, uselessly, to make a case for other kinds of food, which led to this:

“I. Love. McDonald’s.”

“McDonald’s isn’t actually that good for you, though.”

“It’s so good! It tastes delicious!”

“It tastes good. But if you eat too much, it won’t make you feel very good.”

“It makes me feel great! I want to eat there every day.”

“We can’t do that. McDonald’s is a sometimes food.”

“Yes, we can! They’re open All. The. Time. They’re open now! I want to go now!”

It makes sense that she feels this way: What other kinds of food have clowns selling them? And come with toys? And are tailor-made for little kids’ tastebuds with just the right blend of bland salts and fats? I had this horrible image of my girl, all grown up, overweight and sadly eating nothing but fast food three times a day.

“In the context of once a week with her grandma, it’s not doing any harm,” says Jill Castle, a registered dietician and author of three books about childhood nutrition, including Fearless Feeding—How To Raise Healthy Eaters From High Chair To High School. “But if it feels like they’re eating there too much, you can always ask your mom to alternate restaurants.”

Of course, that doesn’t deal with my daughter’s abiding love of fast food. Is there anything that can be done about that?

“A nutrition lecture won’t work,” says Castle. “The move shouldn’t be to eliminate fast food altogether because then kids don’t know how to grow up with junk food and fit it into their life. It’s like kids who never get any sweets and then go out of control at the neighbor’s house. You want to them to develop a healthy relationship, to know where things like junk food fit in their life.”

In the end, I elected not to ask my mom to stop going there, though she got tired of eating the food after a little while, and they’ve started going to a small diner instead, which is marginally better. And we still cook most of the food we eat at home, which means that nearly all of her meals are still organic and made with fresh food. Plus, she still scarfs down the broccoli and oatmeal.