When you’re the biggest target, you take the most hits. McDonalds, by far the biggest fast food provider in the Nashville area, has learned that in the last few years as, despite there being restaurant meal options that are less healthy than the iconic Happy Meal, the company has taken a lot of PR flack for contributing to skyrocketing childhood obesity rates. Just a few months ago, San Francisco passed a ban on toys in unhealthy kids meals, a move most called a “Happy Meal Ban.”
Now, McDonalds is responding, announcing in a press release yesterday that it plans by the end of March 2012 to include “produce or a low fat dairy option in every Happy Meal.” The new standard Happy Meal, which the company says reduces calories in the meal 20%, will come standard with a smaller portion of fries and a side of sliced apples. The standard option will also come with a choice of low fat chocolate or white milk as well a soda option.
Some health advocates say the move doesn’t go far enough. They point out that a sugary soda is still an option to drink, and the main course choices of hamburger, cheeseburger, or Chicken McNuggets is just as unhealthy as always.
Other advocates say it’s a step in the right direction. Studies show most parents just order “a Happy Meal” and don’t bother to customize the order so if they get the healthier option standard, more children will eat healthier. They also point out McDonalds’ option to eliminate fries completely and replace them with a double order of apples.
Of course, healthier kids’ meals are nothing new. Fast food restaurants like Subway have long positioned themselves as an alternative to the Happy Meal by offering healthy choices for kids’ meals. McDonalds also has a financial incentive to become healthier, not only because of laws like San Francisco’s but also because, according to the Wall Street Journal, Happy Meal sales have been in decline in recent years with initiatives like Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign increasing awareness of childhood obesity. The economy may also be playing a factor, as many parents now order meals from the Dollar Menu to split among children.
One thing that will not change about the Happy Meal, despite pressure from advocacy groups, is the included toy. “That’s what makes a Happy Meal happy!” said a McDonalds executive when announcing the menu changes.
What do you think, Nashville? Will you be more likely to buy Happy Meals now that this move has been made? Will you customize back to the old “burger and fries option? Should the toy have gotten the ax? Let us know in the comments section.