“Healthier” Happy Meals

Many apologies for the lack of updates!  Both of our personal lives have been quite crazy lately, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t new food news!

Michele will be blogging about gluten-free labeling laws and the Salmonella tainted-ground turkey incidents in the near future, so please be looking out for those!

I was going to write about McDonald’s (and other fast food chains) decisions to make “healthier” happy meals.  In case you haven’t heard, McDonald’s recently declared that each happy meal will now come with 1/4 cup of apple slices, 1 ounce less fries, the option of low-fat milk (or soda) and the same hamburger/cheeseburger/mc nuggets entree.

At first glance, I was excited for this small change!  But then, after thinking about it some more, and reading articles by Bellatti, Nestle, and Simon, I have different thoughts:

1. 1/4 cup of apple slices is realistically probably just 2-3 small slices.  That’s really not much.  And, the default drink is still soda, not milk.

2. I think Michele Simon said it best: “McDonald’s ultimate goal is to make as little change as possible to get media attention (and praise from the likes of the first lady), while distracting policymakers from doing its job setting the boundaries of corporate behavior.”

3.  Bellatti also reminds us that it’s easy to get caught up in reduction of bad things — like less trans fat or salt, for example — but forget the importance of eating good things like fiber, potassium, etc.

What are your thoughts on McDonald’s new happy meal?  Should we support the small changes, in the hopes that will encourage larger changes in the future?


2 responses

  1. I find your post very interesting, especially since I work at McDonald’s. I do have some thoughts though about what you have written. While I can’t vouch for other stores, especially corporate (mine is a franchise), at my store, we try to suggestive sell Happy Meal drinks such as milk or chocolate milk first, instead of soda. This way, if the parent chooses milk, the child is receiving one serving of milk compared to 12 ounces of soda (child size). Also, the Apple Dippers contain approximately 6-8 slices because I eat them all the time. 🙂

    Let’s think about the changes from a different perspective. McDonald’s is a highly successful enterprise and they don’t want to lose customers. In order to make more healthful changes and not lose their customer base, changes have to be made slowly. And all small changes add up!

    I really appreciate your third point and I believe everyone needs to be reminded of this occasionally. I know that on McDonald’s Happy Meal boxes or bags, they have pictures and little comments about staying active or reading or playing. I do believe they have an additional opportunity to make healthy reminders in a positive aspect, instead of reducing bad things.

    What I honestly believe is that it comes down to education, nutrition awareness, and people making wise and balanced decisions.

    By the way, I really enjoy all that you both post. Very interesting and it helps to keep me informed!

  2. Hey Kristin,
    Thanks for your thoughts! I really appreciate them. I’m also glad to hear that your store is first offering milk/chocolate milk — from what I’ve read, I don’t think that is necessarily standard practice. And thanks for clarifying the serving size of the Apple Dippers!

    I think I would have been a bit happier about this decision if McDonald’s made the apples/plain milk (with the hamburger/cheeseburger/mcnuggets) the standard happy meal, and did something a bit more radical — like charge 50c extra for the fries or soda, if someone wanted it. I think it’s important to have the healthier choice the easier choice — so if soda/fries requires an extra step in remembering to order it, hopefully fewer would be buying it. It’s almost like corporate McDonald’s is trying to barely squeeze by with making as small of changes as possible.

    But, of course, this change would need to come with the appropriate nutrition education! I’m glad to hear that McDonald’s is actively encouraging activity/reading (and hopefully good eating habits too!) on their happy meal bags.

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