McDonald’s announced they are changing up their Happy Meals to make them healthier. Apples will be added to the Happy Meal and the portion of fries will shrink. How will the Happy Meal change affect its nutrition, and will it improve the Happy Meal enough to get around the toy bans?
Happy Meal Bans
McDonald’s has fought several battles recently over the Happy Meal. San Francisco successfully banned toy incentives from any meal if the food and drink together have more than 600 calories and have more than 35% of calories from fat.
Many have pointed out that without the toy, children will be much less likely to ask for the Happy Meal, thus impacting sales. Some people think that’s good – less whining from the back seat! – but some think it’s bad, likely because they’re not the ones who have to hear the whining from the back seat.
Calorie and Fat Limits
The requirements for limits on calories and fat meant that the Happy Meals containing fries and some of the Happy Meals containing apple dippers and Chicken McNuggets could not be sold with a toy. Since most Happy Meals are sold with fries, the toys would not have been allowed with most Happy Meals. I should note that parents can still buy the toy separately, but who’s going to buy those toys?
Currently, a Happy Meal consists of an entree: four piece Chicken McNuggets, Hamburger, or Cheeseburger; a side: small french fries or apple dippers with low fat caramel dip; and a drink: 1% low fat white milk jug (8 fl oz), 1% low fat chocolate milk jug (8 fl oz), apple juice box (6.75 fl oz), or a soft drink (12 fl oz).
The Healthier Happy Meal
The healthier Happy Meal will change the side. Instead of a choice between small french fries and apple dippers with low fat caramel dip, McDonald’s will include a smaller serving of each of the french fries (1.1 ounces – roughly one hundred calories) and apple dippers and omit the caramel dip or have a whole serving of apple dippers. Also, fat-free chocolate milk will be offered instead of the current 1% low fat chocolate milk.
A small french fries has 230 calories and 11 grams of fat in it (43% of calories from fat). The apple dippers and caramel dip have 100 calories and 0.5 grams of fat (5% of calories from fat).
A smaller serving of each gives the Happy Meal sides a total of 150 calories and nearly 5 grams of fat (29% of calories from fat). That would bring all the meals within the calorie limit set by San Francisco and all but one of the Happy Meals within the fat limit. The one Happy Meal is the Chicken McNuggets, french fries/apple dippers, and low fat white milk combo, which has 37% of its calories from fat.
Since San Francisco is not the only place looking at how children are marketed to, McDonald’s has a strong incentive to make a Happy Meal change. It’s not surprising that McDonald’s was able to find a way to fit their product within the city’s demands while still maintaining their corporate profit. It’s what they do, after all.
Image by Valerie Everett, used with Creative Commons license.