This post is sponsored by McDonald’s.

When I was growing up, going to McDonald’s was a treat. In the summer when school was out, my grandma would load my brother and me into the car for her weekly errands. If we were good, our last stop would be at McDonald’s, where we’d get Happy Meals. I have a lot of fond memories of sitting with my brother, grandmother and great-grandmother around a McDonald’s table.

While I think some of the people who are anti-McDonald’s can be intense, I do think they bring up good points. For me, it really comes down to choice. You get to choose where you want to eat, and you get to choose what you want to eat once you’re there. If you don’t like McDonald’s, don’t eat there. I honestly don’t choose McDonald’s often. I’m more likely to eat there when I’m alone (I like their salads, oatmeal, and yogurt parfaits) but I can count on one hand how many times I’ve taken my family there. Annabel likes two things on their menu: pancakes and apple slices. She’s not a big meat eater and she has a rather picky palate. She doesn’t even like their french fries. (I know.)

I’m not naive, though. I know Annabel’s tastes will change as she grows, and I feel it’s my job to make sure she’s informed about her options. I don’t subscribe to the “This Is Forbidden Because I Said So” style of parenting. Instead, I want to teach my kids how to weigh their options so that they start learning about the power of decision-making and consequences at an early age.

At the beginning of the year, I was asked if I would be interested in taking a behind-the-scenes look at the processes that go into making their food, from visiting the farms they source their eggs from to taking a tour of their kitchens to talking with their executive chefs. I was intrigued but uncertain: People feel strongly about McDonald’s, and I wasn’t interested in starting drama. But at the same time, I was curious to know more about the process that goes into creating the menu. Mike and I talked about it extensively, and decided it would be important to show our kids that you must go into things with an open mind.

When I was invited to visit McDonald’s enormous suburban Chicago campus, I arrived at my on-site hotel and got a good giggle at all of the McDonald’s-inspired artwork hanging in the hallways.

ballerina burger girl

I can practically taste 'em

so many clowns

The next morning, I walked around the campus and was taken aback by its beauty. Lakes, flowers, trees and quiet bridges – it feels like you’re on the grounds of a resort.

mcdonald's campus

mcdonald's campus

mcdonald's campus

I visited their main corporate building where I was greeted with more artwork – some far-out, and some exactly what you would expect.

original mcdonald's

I don't know

'sup Ronald

After breakfast in the on-site McDonald’s, I sat down in the test kitchen to pose questions to Chef Jessica Foust, RDN, Director of Culinary Innovation, Cindy Goody,PhD, MBA, RDN, LDN, Senior Director of Nutrition, and Darci Forrest, Senior Director Marketing, Menu Innovation Team. I asked questions for over an hour; this is the edited result:

My conversation with Jessica, Cindy and Darci focused on the process that goes into developing food, but I also asked questions about their own food choices. They all eat McDonald’s food several times a week (Chef Jessica said she eats it every single day), and Cindy and Darci both feed their children McDonald’s food a couple days a week as well. We also talked a bit about the evolution of the Happy Meal, including where they see it heading. I was happy to hear that they are committed to offering more balanced options that are affordable, because our choices are often dictated by our wallets.

I’m not sure what questions my kids have in store for me when it comes to fast food, but I am glad I can point to this experience to help answer whatever they might throw my way.