McDonald’s to turn Happy Meals into healthier meals

A few weeks ago, I wrote in this space about the Kids LiveWell initiative, in which several well-known restaurant chains — Burger King and Chili’s among them — would offer healthy menu items. In fact, I wrote a longer article on the effort, which hopefully will appear in tomorrow’s paper.

Apparently, today, fast food giant McDonald’s has announced it’s adding healthy items to its iconic Happy Meals. The new meal will automatically include apple slices and a new smaller size French fries (1.1 ounces) along with the choice of hamburger, cheeseburger or Chicken McNuggets. Kids will also get a choice of beverage, including new fat-free chocolate milk.

The new meals will debut in some McDonald’s restaurants by September, and should be in all 14,000 chains in the first quarter of 2012.

McDonald’s has offered apples as a requested item with Happy Meals since 2004. That means you have to ask for the item — it doesn’t just come with the meal. According to the chain’s research, though 88 percent of diners were aware of the choice, apples were chosen in only 11 percent of Happy Meal purchases.

Indeed, when I interviewed a Burger King employee on that chain’s new healthy kid’s items — which also include apple slices — he said not many people seem to pick them. There’s hope that automatically including apple slices in a Happy Meal will encourage healthier eating.

What do you think? Is this a really helpful change that will alter the way kids eat? Or are choices like this just lip service to the cause of healthy eating?

Amanda Cuda