Parents may feel slightly less guilty about offering a McDonald’s Happy Meal to their children. Starting in September, the new Happy Meals will automatically include apple slices and a smaller portion of French fries. Customers will also be able to choose 1 percent milk or fat-free chocolate milk, which will be part of the choices that also include water, juice and soda. These changes are part of the chain’s effort to reduce the overall calorie count by 20 percent. Toys will still be included with the meals.
According to a McDonald’s spokeswoman who asked not to be identified, the move is part of the company’s on-going and expanded efforts to comply with the new Council of Better Business Bureaus Food Pledge nutrition standards, which in 2012 will also include a national marketing initiative to raise nutritional awareness among children and their parents.
Still, there are some nutritional experts who remain skeptical about the impact of these changes.
“It’s a baby step,” said Marion Nestle, Ph.D., M.P.H, a professor of nutrition at New York University. “If it were serious, they would have taken the soda out as an option and made low-fat milk the default—and put in a reasonable amount of fruit or a vegetable. This is not about healthy eating. This is about PR. Unfortunately this follows from years of similar announcements from food companies of all the great things they are going to do for child health. Once sales decline, or do not increase, they backtrack. So I’m skeptical of this announcement too. The best thing McDonald’s could have done was to remove the soda as an option (sugars, no nutrients, unnecessary calories).”
She did concede, however, that reducing the French fries was a good thing. Dr. Nestle also said, “Let’s give them credit. Getting kids to eat smaller portions is a little good thing. It’s ‘less worse’ than it used to be. Just because it’s healthier doesn’t mean than it’s healthy.”
In response to criticisms, the McDonald’s spokeswoman said in an email, “As we’ve stated all along, it’s about offering choice. Parents tell us that they don’t want us to stop offering the Happy Meals. They are part of our history and loved by many. With the changes we announced today, we look forward to serving the Happy Meal for many generations to come.”