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McDonald's Happy Meals Are Getting a Major Overhaul

As sustainability and wellness become part of the public's daily life, we've seen fast food chains respond accordingly. First, Chipotle debuted a preservative-free queso. Burger King announced it will no longer serve chicken from abusive poultry farms, and in Finland, McDonald's even added the McVegan to menus. After revamping the Dollar Menu, McDonald's is now turning its attention to the Happy Meals.

In a press release, the company announced that, as part of its commitment to families and its impact on children's diets as a purveyor of Happy Meals, it will improve the Happy Meal menu across 120 markets, or areas in the world. The goal is to "offer more balanced meals, simplify ingredients, continue to be transparent with Happy Meal nutrition information, reinforce responsible marketing to children, and leverage innovative marketing to help impact the purchase of foods and beverages that contain recommended food groups in Happy Meals."

The Menu Changes

Essentially, that fancy paragraph means that McDonald's will use its influence as a family-friendly chain to start encouraging children to make better decisions. As childhood obesity rates in the U.S. rise year over year, many are calling on fast food chains to take responsibility and begin to add healthier options to the menu. Here are some of the proposed changes, per the press release.

  • Listing only the following entrée choices: Hamburger, 4-piece and 6-piece Chicken McNuggets. The Cheeseburger will only be available at a customer's request.
  • Replacing the small French fries with kids-sized fries in the 6-piece Chicken McNugget meal, which decreases the calories and sodium in the fries serving by half.
  • Reformulating chocolate milk to reduce the amount of added sugar. During this period, chocolate milk will no longer be listed on the Happy Meal menu, but will be available at a customer's request.
  • Later this year, bottled water will be added as a featured beverage choice on Happy Meal menu boards.
  • In December 2017, McDonald's USA completed the transition to Honest Kids Appley Ever After organic juice drink, which has 45 less calories and half the total sugar than the prior 100 percent apple juice served in the U.S.

The Effects of Proposed Changes

McDonald's promises that with these changes, there will be reductions across the board: 20 percent decrease in calories, 50 percent in added sugars, 13 percent in saturated fat and/or 17 percent in sodium, depending on the meal. These are indeed important steps for a brand to implement, especially one that has faced criticism for marketing to children.

So yes, the rumors are true. McDonald's is removing cheeseburgers from the Happy Meal menu meal options and will instead be available at the customer's request. While this seems smart, one does have to wonder if this change will make a difference. Will removing the cheeseburger from sight on U.S. menu boards actually encourage a healthier choice?

And what about choice at all? Of course, you can ask for the classic cheeseburger, and these changes are rolled out with the best intentions (to encourage a better, healthier America), but should consumers have a choice in the matter? McDonald's clearly wants to rectify the junk-food image it's earned from the emergence of a healthier generation. The latest changes and menu items reflect this, and the most successful one we can see is reducing the size of the french fries. Will removing items from the Happy Meal menu actually work?

By creating new standards of wholesome and healthy at an establishment that's frequented by folks from all walks of life, McDonald's is signaling its commitment to health advocates. While we wait to see how the better McDonald's will fare, we do have one thought: does making better health decisions begin at the menu board of drive-thru or in the home?

Watch: Why Coca-Cola Tastes Best at McDonald's