For more than 30 years, the standard McDonald's (MCD) Happy Meals have been exactly the same -- a burger or chicken nuggets, fries and a soda. But no more. In an attempt to help youngsters make healthier food choices, the fast food chain announced big changes Tuesday morning to its kid's-meal-in-a-box.

For starters, each Happy Meal will include a fruit or vegetable. The default option will be a package of apples, but customers will also have the choice of carrots, raisins, pineapple, or oranges, depending on the store location and the growing season. McDonald's toyed with the inclusion of fruit in previous Happy Meals, giving children the option to choose fruit over french fries. But because virtually no kid (or adult) is likely to select a few slices of apple over a packet of fried potatoes, McDonald's has wised up and is now including both, automatically. Another improvement is the switch from "Apple Dippers," where the fruit was accompanied by caramel sauce, to the newer version, which is simply apples, minus any sugary topping.

French fries are getting a makeover too -- or, at least, a trim. Previously, the Happy Meal included 2.4 ounces of fried deliciousness. In the new Happy Meal announced today, that portion has been cut significantly, down to 1.1 ounces. Given the high fat, low nutrient value of fries, this is encouraging. And, for parents who want to cut out the fries altogether, McDonald's will offer the option to double up on the fruit or veggies instead (though parents have to ask for it).

Drinks are also being revamped. Prior to this announcement, a soda was automatically offered with the Happy Meal. Now, sodas will no longer be advertised as part of the deal. Instead, parents will have to specifically request the artificial drinks in lieu of the 1% milk offered with the meal. Additionally, McDonald's is introducing a fat-free chocolate milk for Happy Meals.

According to McDonald's, in total these changes represent, on average, a 20% decrease in calories, a 15% decrease in sodium, and a 20% reduction in saturated fat.

While these changes are a step in the right direction towards healthier eating habits, the fact remains that McDonald's is not the healthiest of food preparers. Only a few weeks ago, McDonald's declined to join 19 other fast food chains -- including Burger King, International House of Pancakes (DIN) and Denny's (DENN) -- and more than 15,000 restaurants nationwide, in promising to offer a children's meal that includes an entree, a side and a drink, and still comes in under 600 calories. In case you're wondering if that is a difficult goal to achieve, it's not. According to the Food and Drug Administration, the recommended daily calorie intake is 2,000, so eating more than 600 calories in any single meal is a significant chunk of the day's total calories.

The changes will hit restaurants in September, and should be available nationwide by next April. For those watching their wallets as well as their waistlines, the good news is that the price of a Happy Meal will not increase despite these changes. The bad news is that even when it comes to a Happy Meal, you still have that age old problem: You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. As the Los Angeles Times reported, "Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic, a restaurant industry consultancy in Chicago, said that although McDonald's is clearly trying to strike a balance between nutrition and cravings, 'consumer are going to chose what they want.' And that usually means something fried. 'I think you're going to get a good reaction from kids who like apples,' Tristano said of the new meal. 'But ultimately I think we're going to see a good bit of apples wasted from kids who just refuse to eat them.'"

Loren Berlin is a columnist at DailyFinance.com. She can be reached at loren.berlin@teamaol.com. You can follow her on Twitter @LorenBerlin, and become a fan on Facebook.



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126 Comments

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Bob Strong

I am going to buy three of these for dinner now. My wife was warning me about the unhealthiness of McDonald's. Now she can't say anything at all. Happy meal toys here I come! https://probioticaction.com/products/

March 12 2014 at 8:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
edgar@thealiveacademy.com

Articles like these are why the health and wellness industry is growing so fast. Everyone is becoming more aware of their health and how to prevent and cure their conditions whether it be Weight Loss, Anti-Aging, Diabetes and so on. New England's Only Human Potential Center also provides the tools and the answers to a better lifestyle. http://www.thealiveacademy.com

November 09 2012 at 2:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ACE61502

"because virtually no kid (or adult) is likely to select a few slices of apple over a packet of fried potatoes"

My 4 year old child has been asking for the apples over the fries all along. I'm ok with him having fries, it's HIS choice to get apples instead. Kids who aren't taught that unhealthy foods are a special treat will prefer the healthy ones instinctively. Because he knows he can have that piece of candy it doesn't have as much allure and he'll opt for the nectarine instead.

November 01 2011 at 4:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
cjb

Fat free milk has more added sugar and the same calories of low fat milk. It has a higher glycemic index as a result and is less healthy. This change to the chocolate milk is a step backwards.

July 29 2011 at 5:18 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
C&C's Mom

If parents would get off their lazy butts and take the time to actually interact with their children they could eat McD's without any problems! However, most parents today put their kids in front of the tv or the video games so that they don't have to deal with them. Play with your kids!! It gives you both great exercise and enjoyment! Who cares if your tired or busy. Suck it up! It's good for you and your kids! If more parents stepped up and took their kids outside, to the park, to swim, to a bounce place, to the mall, a nightly walk, anything, this would be the exercise they needed to offset a cheeseburger and fries. What's next? The goverment's going to order all fast food restaraunts to shut down because parents are too "inconvenienced" to play with their kids.

July 27 2011 at 11:13 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to C&C's Mom's comment
O's Dad

You are absolutely correct. It's about time we stop with this nanny state we have going. The government shouldn't be anywhere close to this. They can not protect us from ourselves.

July 31 2011 at 7:04 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
solinprime

I think this is great. I like that the default happy meal is healthy, but all the fat, lazy, uncaring parents who don't watch their own weight can still choose fries and soda for their kids.

July 27 2011 at 9:21 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mjdloc157

some of the memories i have when my children were young was going to McDonalds and getting them a happy meal . what a shame that because some people eat themselves into Obesety and drag thier kids with them ,Michele Obama and her crusade is now telling private bussiness what they can sell,whats next,no pizza,im sure the Obamas stuff themselves with whatever they want, stop trying to be the countrys parents,and tell me what I can eat,why not start a crusade on moderation.

July 27 2011 at 8:46 AM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to mjdloc157's comment
Yosh

don't forget, this administrations , adding a HIDDEN TAX(many items)nfor these food products, and soon price will increase, and you wouldn't know U're paying for it!

July 27 2011 at 9:55 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
hiltonnheather

I think the change is great! us parents have to make healthy choices for our children especially when eating out.way to go Mcdonalds. I will purchase more happy meals for my kids and myself!!

July 27 2011 at 5:24 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
mtccz2005

I'm betting the employees will screw up the order like they always do and forget to put the fruits in the bag anyways ! You have to remember these idiots make minimum wage...

July 27 2011 at 2:42 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to mtccz2005's comment
Alexa Claire

People who make minimum wage are idiots now? The reason people at McDonalds and other fast food restaurants get your order wrong is not that they are idiots. These people are constantly treated like **** by customers and their employers. They are underpaid and overworked. Most of them are going to school or have another job just to get by. It's really hard to care what you put in each completely rude, moronic person's bag when you get paid nothing, don't get breaks, and are treated like a nonperson by most people. So **** you. (:

July 27 2011 at 1:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ACE61502

McDonald's employees actually make MORE than minimum wage in most places. I started at well over min. wage.

That said, having worked there I know how easy it is to get it RIGHT, and I actually have LESS patience for mistakes now than I did before I worked there. My drivethru consistently had the fastest and most accurate output in the region. How did I do it? I made it fun for myself AND the kids who worked with me.

November 01 2011 at 4:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Victoria

America needs to fight for liberty again. We are all been dictated by States and Government in everything. It's up to parents to choose for their children.

July 27 2011 at 2:31 AM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply