UPDATE 3-McDonald's Happy Meals get apples, fewer fries

Tue Jul 26, 2011 2:02pm EDT

* Happy meal changes begin in September

* Happy Meal prices will not change as a result

* Will continue to give away toys with Happy Meals (Adds company and consumer group comment, background; updates share activity)

By Lisa Baertlein

LOS ANGELES, July 26 (Reuters) - McDonald's Corp (MCD.N) said on Tuesday it will soon tweak its Happy Meals, reducing the french fry portion by more than half and automatically adding apples to the popular children's meals, after coming under pressure from consumer groups to provide healthier fare.

McDonald's -- which has been taking heat from parents, consumer groups and local lawmakers over the nutritional content and marketing of Happy Meals -- said it would start making the changes in September and the new Happy Meals would be available in all of its 14,000 U.S. restaurants by the end of the first quarter of 2012.

The world's largest hamburger chain also plans a 15 percent reduction in sodium across its U.S. menu by 2015. Beyond that, it vowed to cut sodium, added sugars, saturated fats and calories in domestic meals by 2020.

"We are going to be casting our gaze more closely on portion management as well as how we can introduce more food groups such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains," Cindy Goody, McDonald's senior director of nutrition, said on a webcast.

The new child's french fry portion will be 1.1 ounces, down from 2.4 ounces previously, and equal to about 100 calories.

McDonald's currently offers apple slices with caramel dipping sauce as a Happy Meal side. The new apple portion size is 1.2 ounces, compared with 3.1 ounces previously, and has no added sugar or accompanying dipping sauces.

The new Happy Meals will have about 20 percent fewer calories than today's most popular Happy Meal, executives said. As a result, the new Happy Meals will be under 600 calories.

Prices will not change as a result of the new composition, and toys will continue to be included in every Happy Meal, said Jan Field, McDonald's U.S.A. president.

The move from McDonald's came after San Francisco and nearby Santa Clara County, California, passed laws that would curb free toy giveaways with kids' meals that did not meet nutritional requirements.

"Without the looming prospect of regulation in cities and states around the country, McDonald's would not have taken as seriously the concerns that the public health community and parents have been sharing with them about this issue," said Samantha Graff, director of legal research at Public Health Law & Policy, which drafted the models for the ordinances eventually adopted in Santa Clara County and San Francisco.

Field told Reuters that the changes announced on Tuesday were in the works for more than two years and had nothing to do with the Santa Clara County and San Francisco laws.

Field added that the new Happy Meals still would not meet San Francisco's nutritional rules, which also require a vegetable serving.

Still, she said it is "absolutely" possible that McDonald's could add a vegetable to Happy Meals over the next five years.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer group that advocates healthier restaurant food for children, last year sued McDonald's to stop it from using Happy Meal toys to lure children into its restaurants. [ID:nN1E76J0XM]

Some 1,700 health professionals and institutions also have signed an open letter to McDonald's Chief Executive Jim Skinner calling for it to stop marketing junk food to kids.

CSPI's nutrition policy director Margo Wootan, called the latest McDonald's changes a step in the right direction.

"McDonald's is an industry leader and Happy Meals have been copied by so many restaurants," she said. "Having them change the nutritional quality for the Happy Meal sets a standard for the industry."

Burger King Corp [BKCBK.UL], DineEquity Inc's (DIN.N) IHOP and more than a dozen other restaurant chains earlier this month backed an industry effort to serve and promote healthier meals for children. McDonald's said it supported that effort, from the National Restaurant Association. [ID:nN1E76C1HP]

As part of that, Burger King said it was removing french fries and soda as the default for its kids' meals. Diners now have to choose between those options or sliced apples, fat-free milk or juice before an order can be completed.

While the restaurant industry is taking steps to appease its critics, it also has been backing laws designed to restrict local lawmakers' ability to regulate restaurant marketing and other activities. [ID:nN04121121]

Shares in McDonald's were up 4 cents to $88.16 in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange. (Reporting by Lisa Baertlein, editing by Gerald E. McCormick)

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Comments (2)
SarahS wrote:
Would it be so difficult to add some baby carrots to the Happy Meals? Wouldn’t that meet San Francisco’s vegetable requirement? I cannot believe that incorporating a vegetable serving would require a two-year effort. Come on, McDonald’s, set an example!

Jul 26, 2011 3:53pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
ngowdy wrote:
Yay for cruise-control parenting!

Scenario: Your kid wants a Happy Meal because it has a toy in it. But you don’t want your kid to eat a bunch of unhealthy junk.

a) Say yes, but only if they eat apples instead of fries.
b) Say yes, but teach them portion control and don’t let them eat all of their fries.
c) Say no, order them something healthier (if it exists).

~or, my personal favorite~

d) Don’t take your kid to McDonalds.

Your kid doesn’t agree to any of these terms? Tough. Be a parent and look out for what’s best for your kids instead of bowing to their every whim and expecting corporations to bend over backwards so you don’t have to look like the villain. Wouldn’t it be awful if you actually had to educate your kids about how and why to control their eating habits? If you had to fight back against corporations marketing to your kids by actually teaching them something and having them respect you enough to trust what you say? The horror.

When I buy my nieces/nephew a Happy Meal, or any other meal not cooked at home, I monitor the amount of junk they eat. I educate them on portion control. They don’t go hungry, but they don’t scarf unnecessarily, either. They know when to stop and how to show restraint. If you start serving up tiny portions, they won’t know what it means to stop. And in any other situation where they aren’t doled out the perfect amount, they’ll be inclined to simply eat until it’s gone.

Jul 26, 2011 4:57pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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