Katie O'Brien sometimes likes to pretend she's a dinosaur and her broccoli is a tree as she bites the head off.
That's just one of the ways the 8-year-old Addison girl says she makes mealtime fun, and she demonstrated it in her video submission for McDonald's Happy Meals Chef contest.
Katie and her sister, 10-year-old Liz, were named finalists in the Happy Meal Chefs contest Wednesday night at the Addison McDonald's restaurant at 410 W. North Ave. Ronald McDonald surprised the girls with the announcement, along with their softball team, friends and family.
"I was just extremely excited; I didn't know what to say," Liz said. "Sometimes my mom finds contests online, so she told me about this one and we had a bunch of good ideas for it."
The Addison girls were two of 10 finalists selected for a trip to the London 2012 Olympic Games as part of McDonald's Global Champions of Play program. All the winners and their parents or guardians will get to attend Olympic sporting events, participate in cooking activities, meet athletes and have the exclusive privilege of practicing their skills with them with them at the Olympic venues.
The Global Champions of Play program celebrates balanced eating and fun play.
"I know they're a big Olympic sponsor, so this is a way to promote the Olympics and get people throughout the country excited about it and get kids involved at an early age," the girls' mother, Dawn O'Brien, said.
The national contest asked parents and children ages 8 through 11 to put together a short video showing how they made mealtime fun while still making wholesome, healthy choices.
In addition to winning a trip to London, two grand prize winners also will win a VIP trip to McDonald's headquarters and cook with a McDonald's chef and menu team to create and test potential new Happy Meal choices.
The contest was launched this year as part of McDonald's new Happy Meal campaign, which aims to help make nutrition fun for kids. The campaign is McDonald's latest initiative to support its "Commitments to Offer Improved Nutrition," which was announced in July 2011 and includes efforts such as including apple slices and chocolate milk in Happy Meals, company officials said.
"A lot of people probably question McDonald's and healthy food together, but we've always come to McDonald's, and it's all about the choices you make," Dawn said. "My kids have always gotten the Happy Meals, and they get the chicken nuggets and the apples and the milk and it's not an unhealthy choice."
Katie said her family does a lot of things to make mealtime enjoyable.
"We cut up orange slices and I put them in my mouth and pretend like it's a smile," she said. "We make it fun."
Katie and Liz both incorporated McDonald's food into their videos, showing how it can be healthy.
"They used McDonald's food as the choices," the girls' father, Mike O'Brien, said. "They did the parfaits and the chicken wraps rather than the fries. We talked about the apple dippers and drinking milk instead of pop. They just did a really good job with it."
Dawn said she encouraged the girls to submit a video for the contest because it tied in with a healthy eating and exercise initiative they were learning at school. But she admitted their success came as a shock.
"We entered both girls because they were both in the age range, but I would have never expected either to win and especially not both to win," she said. "It's a once-in- a-lifetime experience that I'll never forget and that my kids will never forget."