The legendary Happy Meal is undergoing a facelift that the corporate giant McDonald’s hopes will place them as a leader in the attempt to help curb the massive childhood obesity problem in the United States and abroad. The changes will take effect in September in some markets and then roll out to all 14,000 McDonald’s restaurants in the U.S. by April. Overall the meals will see a 20% decrease in caloric counts.

Now the meals will come with a toy as usual, but additionally there will be a serving of fruit or vegetables and the classic shrink French fry portion will get smaller. There was a rumor fries were being eliminated all together, but that came from some public resistance. The new fry portions will drop to 1.1 ounces of potatoes, down from 2.4. Apple slices will often be included as the healthful side dish, but it could also be carrots, raisins, pineapple slices or mandarin oranges, depending on the time of year and the region in which they’re being served.

Jan Fields, president of McDonald’s USA explains further:

“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. When we did it without fries, there was a huge disappointment factor. 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.”

McDonald’s is also pledging to reduce by 15% the amount of sodium in its food. The company recently reduced sodium in its chicken nuggets by 10%, on top of a 13% reduction in sodium after the nuggets were changed from dark meat to white meat.

In 2006, McDonald’s began advertising a version of its Happy Meal that included chicken nuggets and the apple slices, marketed as Apple Dippers because of the caramel sauce. The result is that 88% of McDonald’s customers know about the fruit option with Happy Meals, according to the company. But only 11% of kid’s meals are ordered with apples instead of fries. Caramel sauce will no longer be available. Really? Makes sense.

The business strategy for McDonald’s is to make parents feel less guilty about feeding fast food to their children, so they’ll become more frequent customers.

Geeta Maker-Clark, a family physician at NorthShore University HealthSystem comments:

“I applaud any move toward including more whole food into a heavily processed meal. Bringing a whole food into it shifts the pendulum toward something more healthy, and I applaud the decreased portion sizes.”

Will the youth take to the new apple push? David Palmer, an analyst with UBS. Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic, a restaurant industry consultancy in Chicago says:

“I think you’re going to get a good reaction from kids who like apples. But ultimately I think we’re going to see a good bit of apples wasted from kids who just refuse to eat them. This seems like good leadership in the industry and one that should help the brand maintain its leading position with young families. McDonald’s is clearly trying to strike a balance between nutrition and cravings, but consumers are going to chose what they want.”

Source: The McDonald’s Corporation

Written by Sy Kraft