One of my memories as a child was going to McDonald’s to get a Happy Meal. (It happened maybe once every six months.) I knew that my mom didn’t think that the Happy Meal was a healthy meal, but it was a treat. I still wanted to eat it more often, like my friend Beth, whose parents took her to McDonald’s every week. My mom didn’t think it was healthy, and so we weren’t allowed to have it often.
The Happy Meal that I remember is still the same. The hamburger, fries and a drink meal that was first debuted more than 30 years ago has remained virtually unchanged, although apples and low-fat milk were introduced as options in 2004 in an effort to make the kids favorite more healthy. Unless specifically requested, however, each Happy Meal included a 2.4 ounce serving of french fries. Now that I have children, I (shh!) make the same choice as my own mother – McDonald’s isn’t a healthy choice for my family and so we visit rarely.
McDonald’s is hoping to change our minds.
This morning on Good Morning America, Jan Fields, president of McDonald’s appeared with a bold new statement concerning the future of Happy Meals. She said today that every happy meal will include fruit or a vegetable. Instead of a choice of fries or apple slices, both will be in each meal.
“What we’re doing is offering fruit to every child that comes into a McDonald’s, so it is an automatic,” said Fields. The fruit option could include pineapple, mandarin oranges, raisins or carrots, depending upon the season and the region in which the meal is served.
In order to make room for the additional fruit or vegetable offering, McDonald’s will cut the serving size of the fries down to 1.1 ounces. It’s also an option to skip the fries completely and request an extra serving of fruit or vegetable, but you have to ask for it. A parent also has the option of requesting fat free chocolate milk, and the soda option will no longer be advertised.
Depending upon the fruit or vegetable chosen, the new Happy Meal will represent approximately a 20% decrease in calories, a 15% decrease in sodium and a 20% reduction in saturated fat, according to Fields.
In addition to the new fruit and vegetable options, McDonald’s has pledged to begin nutritional marketing changes. Each and every piece of McDonalds’ advertising, marketing or packaging materials directed at kids will contain a nutritional message. McDonald’s has recently come under fire for their unhealthy children’s meals, with San Francisco and Santa Clara county banning free toys with the kids meals. New York City is also entertaining a similar ban.
The refined Happy Meals will still contain a toy, however. “The toy is an important part of the experience,” Fields said. “Kids need to have fun.”
Kids meals have long come under fire for being high in fat, calories and sodium and promoting unhealthy eating habits. First Lady Michelle Obama has been a vocal and outspoken critic of kids meals, and the new offerings from McDonald’s make her, well, happy.
“McDonald’s is making continued progress today by providing more fruit and reducing the calories in its Happy Meals,” she said in a statement. “I’ve always said that everyone has a role to play in making America healthier, and these are positive steps toward the goal of solving the problem of childhood obesity.”
For other fast food chains making their kid’s meals healthier, check out: Popular Fast Food Chains Commit to Healthier Kids Meals.