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.
Finally some good news to report about the fast food and restaurant industry! Nineteen restaurant chains have committed to making their kid meal options healthier. In a new era where one in three children are obese and where eating out is more of a norm verses a special indulgence, this is wonderful news.
The initiative is called “Kids Live Well”, and this voluntary action has select restaurants committing to reduce the calories and improve the nutritional value of the meals they advertise to children. The meals will now be comprised of increased fruit and vegetable offerings, a lean protein, whole grains, and a low fat dairy product. All participants have agreed to make certain all meals are 600 calories or less.
Burger King is one of the restaurants involved in the movement. They may be the shining star of the group as they have made a decision to make apples and milk or juice the default choices for their kid’s meals. While fries and soda will still be available, they will have to be requested. Studies have shown that menu items set as the default options are what the consumers primarily stick with.
Many fast food restaurants have marketed collectible toys that come along with their child size meals for years. As the fifth largest burger chain in the country, Jack in the Box recently announced that they will be ending this promotion and instead begin a focus healthier menu items for children.
This restaurant and others like it have come under a lot of opposition from activists groups who claim that the use of toys in marketing directly contributes to the major problem of childhood obesity.
These are high claims. However these claims are the fuel behind certain states placing bans on the use of toys in children’s meals. There’s definitely a controversy taking place. There are enough people in the public agreeing that the toys have a negative effect that it could soon be illegal to place an action figure in with a child’s burger and fries.