Views & Reviews From Writer Steve Miller
Formerly Reviews and Stuff at Rotten Tomatoes, 2005 - 2009.

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Monday, April 18, 2011

Oatmeal at McDonald's

I'm not a big fan of McDonald's. Not for the usual reasons--I really don't give a wit about how healthy or unhealthy the food is. At this late date, I feel that those who eat a steady diet of fast food are like smokers: The nutritional failings of fast food have been so thoroughly documented and publicized that anyone who is supposedly "unaware" is either an idiot or a liar and THEY'RE the ones to blame for their unbalanced diets or fat asses... as well as those of their kids. Michelle Obama's anti-fast food crusade is as hysterical and obnoxiously phony as those launched by anti-smoking Nazis.

I'm not a fan of McDonald's, because just about everything I've ever had there sucks, except for their McRib Sandwich and their weird pancake-bacon-egg-and-cheese sandwich when I'm REALLY hungry early in the morning (if I get to it when it's piping hot and fresh). I worship their McRib Sandwich, and I frequent drive thrus once or twice a week during the times they're available. (Worst McDonald's experience: Their fish sandwich literally made me sick; I puked all over the inside of my car while driving back from a McDonald's lunch in Lake Geneva, WI, 1996.)

Still, when I saw they were offering oatmeal, I figured I'd give it a try. The past few months have been an odd time for me work-wise, with lots of irregular hours and even more irregular meal-times. and the McDonald's oatmeal seemed like something worth trying, what with it being a union of oatmeal and several of my favorite fruits--cranberries, raisins, and apples.

I've always been a fan of oatmeal, especially oatmeal and raisins. As a kid, I would often eat oatmeal cold, just pouring the oats in a bowl, pouring on milk, pouring on a spoonful of raisins, mixing... and ready-to-eat tastiness. I even occasionally eat my oatmeal that very same way today, although now I more often than not take the extra arduous step of cooking them first. But the milk and raisins usually get added.

I gave the McDonald's Fruit and Oatmeal offering three tries, at three different outlets that I often pass during my daily wanderings.

The first time, I was very happy with the results. The cup of oatmeal was warm and gooey and the fruit added just the right bit of sweetness; I liked it so much that I decided that I would get some dried cranberries and add them to my next homemade oatmeal breakfast in addition to the raisins--but not the apples, because I'm too lazy to dice apples. (Of course, the sweetness was due more to a whole mess of other additives than the fruit, as this New York Times column discusses... and for once I share the opinion of a fast food detractor; why couldn't McDonald's just keep the oatmeal simple? They ARE apparently keeping it simpler here in Washington State, but McDonald's does seem to be making oatmeal "wrong." That alone was not a reason to keep me from buying it, though, nor the outrageous price of ca. $2 per cup. Like I said above, anyone who assumes McDonald's offerings are good for you, is an idiot.

Or you might be like this Washington Post writer, who was as taken with the McDonald's Fruit and Oatmeal as I was.

The second time I tried the oatmeal, it was a disaster. The cup contained a messy soup of oats and water and fruit bits. It was as if I'd done of my homemade non-cooked oatmeal "dishes" with warm water instead of milk... and way too much water at that. It was so gross I couldn't even bring myself to eat the fruit.

The third, and final time, the offering was as tasty as the first time I offered it, but I decided that the $2 per cup price-point is too high and it is a rip-off. That's because I got to see how it was made.

Free tip for McDonald's corporate and franchise restaurant managers: Food is almost as much about the presentation as it is about the taste, even when it comes to crappy fast food. McDonald's marketing department knows this, but whoever sets up the actual facilities at the restaurants apparently does not... or at least they fail to take the drive-thru into account.

In my final purchase of McDonald's oatmeal dish, I ordered it at the usual speaker-festooned mega-menu, paid at one window, and then pulled up to the second window to pick up my Fruit and Oatmeal. While sitting there, I looked through the pick-up window and watched the employee pour a packet of instant oatmeal into the paper serving cup; pour in water from the hot water dispenser into the paper cup and stir; open a little plastic bag and pour the diced apples and raisins and dried cranberries into the paper cup; affix the black plastic lid; put the lidded cup into a bag with the McDonald's M on it; grab and toss a black plastic spoon into the bag; open the pick-up window and hand me my order with a smile.

The actual dish tasted as good as it had the first time, but having witnessed what went into making it, this was my last time ordering it.

If I had given it any thought, I would have known all along that McDonald's oatmeal really was nothing but instant oatmeal dressed up, but, McDonald's is not the sort of food that I give any thought to. The illusion that some actual cooking went on was one that could and should have been preserved, if management at that McDonald's (and probably McDonald's everywhere, as I've seen that hot water dispenser in that same spot at several different drive-thrus) had put any thought into presentation. But since they chose to show me the McDonald's oatmeal is no different than what I could buy at Safeway or Fred Meyer's for half or less the price, I will be saving my money. Even if I have to add my own raisins to the cup after I've poured in the hot water.

I know I'm lazy when it comes to cooking, but I don't want to pay a restaurant to be as lazy as I am.


  1. I haven't eaten fast food in years. Their claims of being healthy are funny.

  2. Thanks for that wake-up call. I'd like to believe that the staff were hard at work stirring the oatmeal, mixing in the sliced apples, and gently pouring it into the cups.

    The oatmeal was actually my favorite new thing to order at McD's, as it's available 24/7. Now I'm having my doubts.

    Did you see the employees use their teeth to tear open the plastic bags of diced fruit?

  3. Also that first photo is false advertising; they never fill the oatmeal that high. Mine usually looks more like the second photo you showed.

  4. The first picture is indeed an McD's promotional image. Two out of three times the oatmeal I got looked like that picture, except the cup was not as full and there wasn't quite that much fruit. But that one time--when it was soupy and gross--it looked like the second picture... which is a photo of a REAL serving of Fruit and Oatmeal.

    And no... the truth about how they make the dish wasn't quite as bad as the employee tearing open the pack with her teeth. I am sorry for shattering your illusions, though. :)