A Healthier Happy Meal

McDonald’s works to reduce calories in its kids’ meals.

Jul 27, 2011 | By Liz Sawyer
COURTESY MCDONALD’S

Fast-food giant, McDonald’s, said on Tuesday that they would be cutting out excess calories in their kids’ menu choices starting in September. McDonald’s will reduce the amount of french-fries in Happy Meals and will also include sliced apple “dippers” in every meal. Before the change, people could ask for apple dippers instead of fries. Now they will get them without asking. McDonald’s says it will still include the ever-popular toys with each meal.

McDonald’s new Happy Meal will contain apple slices and a smaller order of french fries. Toys are still included.

“We are going to be casting our gaze more closely on portion management as well as how we can introduce more food groups such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains,” said Cindy Goody, McDonald’s senior director of nutrition.

McDonald's new Happy Meal will contain apple slices and a smaller order of french fries. Toys are still included.
KEITH SRAKOCIC—AP
McDonald's new Happy Meal will contain apple slices and a smaller order of french fries. Toys are still included.

After getting much of the blame for childhood obesity, fast-food chains, especially McDonald’s, began selling more nutritious menu items such as oatmeal and salads. But the restaurant was most criticized for its marketing which is often aimed at young children. Some cities, such as San Francisco, California, have banned toys from all kids’ meals that didn’t meet strict nutritional guidelines for fat, salt and sugar content because the prizes attracted more children to the fast food.

Pressure to Change

McDonald’s felt public pressure to change their offerings. The company has stopped including caramel sauce with its apple dippers. It also reduced french-fry portions from 2.4 oz to 1.1 oz in every meal. This decreases calorie content by about 20 percent, which means a new Happy Meal is less than 600 calories. Currently, the unhealthiest Happy Meal consists of a cheeseburger, fries and 1 percent chocolate milk, which contains 700 calories and 27 grams of fat.

“It’s a good first step,” said Kelle Louailler, executive director of Corporate Accountability International. His group watches over companies. “However, [McDonald’s] has yet to address the central issue: its aggressive brand marketing to kids. And so long as burgers, fries and soda offerings to kids, alongside toys, remain central to that brand, health professionals will continue to call for the marketing to stop.”

Meanwhile, Goody and her team plan to cut sodium by 15 percent across the entire menu by 2015, with more cuts to sugar and calories by 2020. The Happy Meal changes will be in place in every location across the United States by March 2012.