Health-conscious parents and Michelle Obama alike can rejoice: the fast-food giant McDonald’s has succumbed to pressures on many different sides and announced that it will halve the serving of French fries in each of its child-friendly Happy Meals, and add a serving of fruits and vegetables. McDonald’s says that the change will result in a 20 percent decrease in calories, depending on what is ordered in the rest of the Happy Meal. They also say that prices will not go up.
“People tell us they want to feel good about visiting us regularly, about the food options that we serve, and want to visit us even more often,” explained Jan Fields, the president of McDonald’s USA.
Getting rid of unhealthy foods altogether did not seem like a feasible option. When McDonald’s flirted with removing French fries from Happy Meals, they say that parents and children reacted poorly. ”People come to McDonald’s and, first of all, they want the choice and the control to be theirs, but their expectation of a Happy Meal does include a fry,” Fields said. “When we did it without fries, there was a huge disappointment factor.”
Happy Meals do currently have a fruit option: children can swap out fries for “Apple Dippers,” or apple slices with a low-fat caramel sauce. But most kids don’t seem to want to do that, and parents aren’t making them. Only 11% of Happy Meals are ordered without fries. The caramel sauce, which is getting nixed, will be the major casualty in the revamped Happy Meal.
Many praised McDonald’s’ move away from heavily processed, high-sodium, high-fat foods for children. Happy Meals in particular have drawn fire because advocates say they encourage children to eat unhealthily by including a toy with each meal. But others are more skeptical about the changes, especially given the lackluster response to previous attempts to make Happy Meals healthier.
“I think you’re going to get a good reaction from kids who like apples,” said a restaurant industry consultant, Darren Tristano. “But ultimately I think we’re going to see a good bit of apples wasted from kids who just refuse to eat them.”
The question is whether people go to McDonald’s because it offers unhealthy treats, or whether McDonald’s can rebrand its image as a healthy fast-food chain. Whether they will be successful remains to be seen. The first new and (maybe?) improved Happy Meals will hit stores in September.
Photo from Calgary Reviews via flickr.