McDonald’s trots out fresh-baked breakfast treats

I got to know the Muffin Man ;a little bit today. Turns out he is a she.

Kimberly Shelton of Crestone Group Baking Companies led 14 bloggers through a tasting of McDonald’s new bakery offerings this morning at the Seaport Hotel in Boston. She was joined by Sylvia Becker, marketing manager for McDonald’s, the purveyor of five of Shelton’s creations: Banana bread, cheese croissant, blueberry muffin, multi-grain berry muffin and miniature vanilla scones.

In typical Commuter Daddy fashion, the day started before the sun was up this morning as I departed Middletown, NY, at 5 a.m. My goal was to blow through Hartford before that city’s rush hour and hopefully catch a break as I neared Boston during the peak morning traffic, all in an effort to make it to the tasting by 10.

I must have made the correct ;sacrifices ;to the commuting gods this week. Even with some traffic on the Mass Pike at the Newton and Allston tolls, I made the trip in under four hours, gaining me an hour to do some day-job work. Score one for productivity!

Most of the 14 bloggers in attendance were women, but it didn’t feel like a mom-specific event and therefore I didn’t feel out of place. We’ve all got to eat, right? We’re all looking for variety in ours and our kids’ diets. If we can sneak some fruit into a baked good, that smells like victory to me.

When I first arrived, I set myself up at a table near the rear of the suite. I wanted some room to spread out, take some photos, do some writing, sip some coffee, etc. Soon, I was joined by two moms and their children. I had established the kids table! It turned out to be fortuitous. One measure of culinary success can be accomplished via the mouths of toddlers. Would the kids like the baked goods?

A 19-month-old daughter of one blogger tried playing peek-a-boo with me, but her hands were occupied by the banana bread, so she simply turned her head side to side in a modified version of the game. Her mouth was occupied too, seeming to savor every bite of the banana bread. I had to agree with her. It was pretty tasty, with just the right amount of crunch on the crust surrounding an otherwise moist bread. Shelton said they used as little flour as possible among the 12 ingredients, which at times meant the bread would barely hold together during testing. The banana taste was faint, but it still was my favorite among the five offerings.

It didn’t taste nearly as sinful as the cheese croissant. ;”It’s butter,” Shelton said about the croissant. “It’s a lot of butter.” It was fabulous, but it couldn’t possibly be in my regular breakfast rotation, in much the same way the beloved sausage biscuit is not on my personal menu regularly. My daily fight against cholesterol would surely be lost if the cheese croissant was in my commuting breakfast repetoire. It has 14 grams of saturated fat, which is 70 percent of the recommended daily allowance, according to the nutritional labels that were shared with us. Be still, my clogging heart. The way Shelton described the ingredients — a “big block” of croissant dough, a “big block” of butter and sweetened cream cheese — made my LDL dance with joy. Don’t get me wrong. Each bite was a dreamy mouthful. Even before Shelton described the care that went into making the croissant light and airy, I could tell this was no ordinary fast-food croissant. It will be interesting to see how airy they are at the restaurants when I do get around to indulging in such breakfast decadence once in a long while.

The aforementioned 19-month-old also appeared to like the miniature vanilla scones. They were a shade too sweet for my taste. Nevertheless, I know our small army of boys will love the scones when they have a chance to try them. I will describe them to the boys as iced Munchkins — two words that go very well with their palettes. One bite, and they will be hooked and learn to connote the word scone with other breakfast treats they like. The 3-scone serving size packs a caloric whallop, though. They make the cheese croissant seem light by comparison: 420 calories for the scones serving, 380 for the croissant. I am already feeling as if I can increase my croissant allowance.

The lightest item among the offerings is the 280-calorie multi-grain berry muffin. It also has only 6 grams of fat total, with 1 gram being saturated — a much better fit for my diet. It would be impossible to eat cleanly while driving, though. As it was, I got a small berry stain on my pants while sampling in a much more controlled setting than my driver’s seat. No wonder I was at the kids’ table! That said, this muffin ran a close second to my banana bread favorite. Anytime you can mix crunchy grains with a moist breakfast food, I am all in. One bite and I was immediately ;nostalgic ;as my culinary imagination whisked me to Fog Island Cafe on Nantucket for my favorite “Trail Cakes.”

I have to bet the McDonald’s multi-grain muffin and its simpler blueberry sibling are much better for me than the Fog Island breakfast, and more cost effective too. Becker said McDonald’s restaurant operators have been advised to price the bakery items between $1.59 and $1.89. Bundle it with a small coffee (Newman’s Own Organic, of course, already a regular staple in the Commuter Daddy road diet), and you’ve got breakfast for under $3.

The better news? The bakery items are available all day, unlike most of the rest of the McDonald’s breakfast menu, which is unavailable after 10 or 11 a.m., depending on where you are and whether it is a weekday or weekend.

One blogger pointed out that the items being showcased were akin to offerings at Panera, with the added bonus of the McDonald’s drive-thru. No longer is a sports parent required to shepherd some or all of the family from vehicle to restaurant and back again to get some something other than Pop Tarts and sugary cereals into the kids’ gullets. Drive up, place order, get served, distribute food, and voila! Multi-tasking zen achieved with at least twenty minutes gained. Becker said 60 percent of McDonald’s business is conducted via its drive-through window. We parents and commuters can vouch for that.

One of the bloggers in attendance asked the McDonald’s representative whether the company has added the baked goods as part of a strategy to compete more directly against Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts. Becker deftly side-stepped the question twice, bringing focus back to the McDonald’s variety, affordability and all-natural ingredients, without explicitly stating against whom those value propositions should be applied.

But make no mistake. The breakfast and freshness race is on. Certainly Starbucks perceives McDonald’s as infringing on its market share. If I were a betting man, I’d wager that similar feelings are held by McDonald’s executives.

Bad news for those outside of New England, though. These baked goods are strictly a Northeast offering for the moment. Becker said breakfast tastes vary greatly by region, and while McDonald’s would like to test something in Chicago based on their New England success to-date, they are proceeding slowly and cautiously. It’s not often that McDonald’s offers regional products (plus or minus a ;McLobster), so there seems to be an extra dose of caution being applied.

From the commuter perspective, these offerings are not ideal drive-and-eat fodder. They won’t score well on the Commuter Snack Index that is in the works (more to come), but not many baked goods will score highly, no matter the origin. So that’s not a knock on McDonald’s. These latest offerings are, however, ideal grab-and-go food for everyone else in the car. There’s sure to be something that finnecky kids will like and can pair with a smoothie for a pretty well balanced meal when contrasted against other McDonald’s breakfast options.

Sure, they look and are delicious, but for my long-term health give me the multi-gran berry muffin any day.

Also in attendance today:
As Cape Cod Turns
Being Loopy
Capability : Mom
Charlene Chronicles
Don’t Mind the Mess
MommyCosM
Natick Patch: Weekly Bites
Pragmatic Mom
Providence Journal Food Blog
Stowed Stuff
The Coupon Goddess
The Frugalette

Disclosures: I was not paid to attend today. Our hosts, SHIFT Communications, did pay for parking, and ;food and coffee were supplied for free. Each of us was also presented with a thank-you basket, containing a McCafe apron, small spiral-bound notebook and coupons. I would like to give away the coupons to the first 9 new people to like our Commuter Daddy Facebook page. Please send an email to commuterdaddy@comcast.net to let me know you’ve added yourself among the Facebook fandom, and whether you’d like a free smoothie (2 available) or a free bakery item coupon (7 available).

Commuter Daddy 2010 Readers’ Choice Awards

Photo courtesy of Cory Schmitz

Welcome, readers and fans, to the third annual post dedicated to you. It’s the Commuter Daddy 2010 Readers’ Choice Awards! It’s like Christmas all over again, isn’t it?

Should you wish to revisit your 2009 favorites and 2008 choices, please do so. If for this year’s list I were to include posts made in previous years, Jelly Belly cycling jerseys (still on my wish list!), cooking in the cubicle, and germs trumping the environment all remain popular topics.

But this post is dedicated to the new content. The only eligibility requirement of the Commuter Daddy Readers’ Choice awards is the post had to have been published in the current year. So without further fanfare, here are the top 10 items we wrote and you read in 2010.

  1. Google adds biking directions — but cycle cautiously
    I’m happy to report that Google’s biking directions no longer guide the would-be Sandwich-to-Woods Hole cyclist through the Massachusetts Military Reservation. It recommends much more law-abiding primary and secondary routes. Your welcome for pointing out the original folly.
     
  2. Will blog for coffee
    Thank you, fellow New England Bloggers, for helping this reach number 2 on the hit parade. I still blog for coffee. Beer too, in case you were wondering.
     
  3. Commuter Daddy… mommy blogger?
    I’m still listed, and boston.com drove 13.5 percent of my page views this year. Thanks and welcome, boston.com readers!
     
  4. More on Acela Wi-Fi via the iPad and No streaming media while riding the rails
    I’ve already linked to these items from yesterday’s New Year’s resolution report card and last week’s wish for Wi-Fi zones of silence in our busy lives. Linking to items about Acela and Wi-Fi three times in eight days ought to keep these popular for next year, too.
     
  5. No passing on the right
    Ms. SBT is still not allowed to be my chauffeur. She understands.
     
  6. Age is all about perception
    Speaking of age, Benjamin, our youngest, was surprise to learn at lunch yesterday that I am younger than his mom. “I thought you were older,” he said. “Because you’re bigger.” A double stab at my ego and appearance! Later he told his mom he thought I was going to be turning 50 when my birthday rolls around. Sorry to disappoint, kid. I’ll only be 40, though he is rapidly making me feel as if I am 50.
     
  7. Crazy airports
    After the frigid weather we have had over the past week, I am ready to risk a Culebra landing again.
     
  8. Breakfast variety does not spice our children’s lives
    This might be true of lunch now, too. When I asked Mason and Benjamin where they wanted to go for lunch yesterday after we had finished touring the Prudential Skywalk Observatory, they and Mason’s friend who was with us unanimously voted for Dunkin’ Donuts. Not that there is anything wrong with donuts for lunch, but for the record I had a flatbread sandwich. No one followed my example, though Benjamin came close with his sausage croissant — hold the egg and cheese and hand off the croissant to Dad.
     
  9. Dear, Chrysler: Give me gadgets with my Man Van. Hold the stitching.
    I would like to add another feature proposal for my ideal Man Van: Perpetual new-car smell. I got my Volkswagen serviced and cleaned yesterday while we were in Boston, and apparently the cleaning included a deodorizing spritz that makes the car smell new again. I like it, and would like to put that deodorant on a timer. Let’s also make it sensitive to whenever Mason pulls off his soccer cleats in my car. Two doses should be immediately applied in that case.
     
  10. And you think your commute is bad
    I still shudder at the thought of weekly West Coast trips. May I never require that much travel.

Wrestling our kids in the nutrition ring

Just before leaving the house at god-awful-o-clock this morning, I filled my travel mug with timer-brewed coffee (bless that timer) and looked around quickly for something to eat while on the drive to Providence.

We were out of trail mix, and nothing was going to be open in town at that hour for me to pop in and grab a bag quickly. Homemade granola would be too messy, and there was no spare time for me to slather peanut butter on a couple of slices of bread, Dinner With Dad-style.

Enter the Pop Tart.

We always have a plentiful supply, because it is Mason’s breakfast staple. When there is no coffee cake, pancakes or cinnamon rolls to be had, he falls back to the Brown Sugar and Cinnamon variety of the breakfast pastry.

This morning, there were two unopened boxes in the cupboard, so I knew one package would not be missed. Out the door I went, coffee mug, Pop Tart, and car keys in hand.

Fast forward two hours. I am southbound on the Acela, and wondering why I am starving before the clock has even struck 7 a.m.

Now I understand why Pop Tarts are not on Harvard Medical School’s list of essential foods. They are more snack than breakfast. That led me to wonder how Mason functions at school with Pop Tarts as his daily breakfast. His metabolism is clearly faster than mine based on age alone, never mind how active he is. He must be hungry by the time he gets on the bus, never mind mid-morning in his classroom.

Brandy and I have been talking a lot lately about the food choices we make for our boys, and empowering them to make healthy choices for themselves when they get older. It’s a tough balance to strike. With Mason in particular, just getting him to eat is the challenge. For lunch, all he wants are Ritz crackers with peanut butter. For dinner? He’d choose chicken nuggets or hot dogs on alternating nights if left to his devices.

We’re actually doing OK on the dinner front. We persevere through a certain amount of grousing on some nights, but for the most part we’ve been successful with alternating chicken, steak, pork, hamburgers and sausage, with only occasional reliance on pizza, grilled cheese and frozen, prepackaged foods. Only one of the boys likes pasta or rice, so side dishes alternate between fresh peppers, carrots and celery; cooked broccoli, green beans or peapods; or fruit. Sometimes we’ll add crescent rolls or freshly baked bread to the mix.

Breakfasts and lunches are entirely different challenges, though, especially during the school year. Mornings are chaotic, and efficiency and conflict minimization probably dictate our choices most often. For lunches, we’re steering more toward packing the kids’ lunches rather than relying on them to fend for themselves in the cafeteria. With Mason in particular, though, that’s daunting. How do we get enough protein in him when he won’t eat sandwiches with deli meat and loathes the thought of tuna or egg salad?

It’s a constant wrestling match, and some days you can’t win. For example, Sam came home on the first day of school with a full lunch box. He decided to eat the chicken patty on the cafeteria menu instead. We sent that lunch box back to school with him the next day, reminding him to eat the packed lunch when provided and not to be tempted by the cafeteria offerings.

It’s enough to make us want to tear out our hair and empty out the school lunch accounts. That doesn’t feel right to us, but it would be effective.

And therein lies the parental nutrition conundrum: What’s right, versus what’s effective. That’s the balance we need to strike.

Coming soon to health food stores: Coffee and beer


Photo via H is for Home

Coming on the heels of my 3-cups-a-day coffee confession Monday, we learn from a University of Utah study that four cups of coffee a day appears to reduce the risk of oral cancers.

Refill, please.

Granted, there’s the caveat that too much caffeine can increase the heart rate and blood pressure. However, there’s evidence that some of the chemicals in coffee — reportedly over 1,000 — include antioxidants, which can protect against cancers.

Even better news? Another study shows that beer is one of the healthiest beverages available — in moderation, of course.

I’m a little suspicious of the second study, given that it was released by The Beer Academy. I’ve downloaded the report and will read it with an eye toward deeper analysis. And by deeper analysis, I mean while I more closely examine the properties of the beer I’ll have in one hand while I hold the report with my other.

Will blog for coffee

One thing you have likely learned about me from this blog over the years is that I love coffee. I subscribe to the reportedly Turkish proverb: “Coffee should be as black as hell, as strong as death, and as sweet as love.” All those in favor indicate by saying, “Aye.”

Aye.

My coffee reliance runs deep. On the days that I commute to New York, the timer on the coffee maker has been set the night before to make sure there’s a hot pot brewed by the time I head out at 5 a.m. This also ensures that Commuter Mommy has coffee waiting for her when the boys and the dog start stirring a little later in the morning. Commute mornings are all about survival of the fittest for all involved, and coffee gives us a leg up on the Commuter Urchins. Lord help us when they start drinking coffee.

There are likely two additional stops for coffee in my future on these commuter mornings. By the time I get to the office 4 1/2 hours later, I am wired and ready to jump right into the requisite meetings and conference calls — right after a stop in the men’s room, naturally.

On the ride home later in the week, there’s almost always a coffee pit stop, too. While this wreaks havoc with getting to sleep once I arrive home, it helps me make it home in one piece.

The side effect is that I also indulge in three cups of coffee during most mornings spent in the home office. We realized the extent of our addiction when we recently purchased decafffeinated coffee by mistake. Brandy and I wondered why we were still feeling so tired after consuming the first pot made with the impotent grounds, and only realized our shopping error when checking the package in our still-bleary-eyed attempt to make a second pot.

I’m not proud of this addiciton, but given that I have shed or severely curtailed most of my other vices — cigarettes, red meat, martinis, midnight ice cream binges, Jelly Bellies — I will be clinging to this last bad habit for a while longer.

All of this is a long-winded way of explaining why I am introducing you to three fellow caffeinated bloggers today as part of the New England blogging carnival. They are all part of the larger network of New England Bloggers compiled at Thoughts From an Evil Overlord, where Commuter Daddy is also listed.

There are some other coffee-themed or named blogs that I follow from time to time and therefore should also introduce: Catnip and Coffee (also New England-based), DailyCupofJo (not New England-based) and Marketing Over Coffee (also New England-based; truthfully, I listen to the podcast more than I read the blog).

Enjoy, and cheers!

All hail Starbucks and free Wi-Fi

I’ve written a multitude of times about free Wi-Fi and its potential as a business driver for attracting an increasing remote and mobile workforce. I’ve written so much, in fact, that you might be growing sick of my rants.

Today, though, I only have praise for Starbucks, who announced this week that they are lifting Wi-Fi access restrictions in their stores. Free Wi-Fi for all. No whammies.

Currently, if you are a Starbucks card holder, which I am, you can get two free hours of Wi-Fi. Ordinarily, that is sufficient, especially when I am driving solo. Once a month, though, I “host” an off-site meeting with my remote staff. We’re Panera devotees, because we can eat lunch, work and chat, down some dessert and coffee, and work some more with worrying about the Wi-Fi meter running out.

Now I am not pledging to switch our allegiance from Panera to Starbucks. That might cause a mutiny. We love our Panera meetings. However, Starbucks has just stepped up as a candidate for serious consideration for my solo-travel, working pit stops and as a potential meeting location with staff, vendors and others.

Dunkin’ Donuts? Not so much. It’s not that I don’t like Dunkin’ Donuts. I could drink caramel-swirl iced coffees with milk all summer long and twice on Mondays. It’s just really hard for me to run on Dunkin’ when they don’t offer Wi-Fi.

Thank you, Starbucks. We road warriors appreciate the gesture, and it’s a pretty safe bet you’ll get more of our business as a result.