McDonald's making strong push to make Happy Meals healthy meals

Jelisa Castrodale

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If you want to experience the happiest version of a McDonald’s Happy Meal, then you’d better drive toward the closest set of golden arches soon. McDonald’s has vowed to slim down one of its most well-known menu items by pulling the cheeseburgers out of its children’s meals and putting fewer fries in each package. By 2022, the company has vowed that more than half of the Happy Meals sold in its 37,000-plus locations worldwide will be under 600 calories, with significant decreases to their saturated fat, sugar and sodium content.

McDonald’s is doing this by peeling the cheese off the cheeseburgers (a savings of 50 calories), shaking 50% fewer fries into each carton and switching to a low-sugar chocolate milk. Happy Meals and Mighty Kids Meals will now contain plain hamburgers and either four- or six-piece boxes of chicken McNuggets. In a press release detailing its commitment to “evolving the Happy Meal Menu,” it suggested that it might add new options, like the “Junior Chicken,” a grilled chicken sandwich that is already on the kids’ menu at McDonald’s Italy. It also plans to increase the number of restaurants that include books as an option for kids (or parents) who’d prefer not to have a toy in their Happy Meals.

Going forward, McDonald’s has promised to offer more fruits and vegetables, to include bottled water as a Happy Meal drink option and to “reinforce responsible marketing for children.” The company says that about 28% of the Happy Meals sold in “20 major McDonald’s markets” currently meet its newly slimmed down standard, but it hopes that all of its U.S. restaurants will be in compliance by June.

“We recognize the opportunity that we have to support families as one of the most visited restaurants in the world, and remain committed to elevating our food, celebrating the joy of reading, and helping those in need through Ronald McDonald House Charities,” McDonald’s President and CEO Steve Easterbrook said. “Given our scale and reach, we hope these actions will bring more choices to consumers and uniquely benefit millions of families, which are important steps as we build a better McDonald’s.”

The Happy Meal made its McDebut in 1979, and the circus-themed box was filled with either a hamburger or a cheeseburger, a small order of fries, cookies, a soda and a toy. In 2011, it added apple slices and shrunk the size of the fries. Two years later, it stopped including sodas and traded the cookies for apple slices. Today, low-fat yogurt is also an option, as are 1% milk and the Honest Kids Appley Ever After organic juice drink.

Although McDonald’s does not report its Happy Meal-specific sales, Reuters reports that some store consultants estimate that they account for 15% of sales in the United States. Offering kids (and parents) more health-conscious choices seems like a good idea, but my inner cynic says that it’s about money as much as it is nutrition, since McDonald’s gets to serve smaller portions at the same full-sized price point.

Happy Meal cheeseburgers will still be available upon request – but those McDonaldland Cookies are probably gone for good.

Jelisa Castrodale

About Jelisa Castrodale

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