McDonald’s Happy Meals are About to Get Healthier

I would like to open this post by saying I have not been compensated in any way for making this post, nor was I asked to write it. I am a parent whose son enjoys going to McDonald’s primarily because of their PlayPlace, where he gets quite a bit of exercise running around – so much that I have to make him sit down and take a drink when his face gets too red.

Violet's First Happy MealMcDonald’s gets a bad rap for being unhealthy. In the past, this reputation was well-deserved. But in more recent years, McDonald’s has really cleaned up its act, offering many more healthful choices on its menu. It’s a matter of personal responsibility if you choose to order a double Angus bacon cheeseburger with large fries and a milkshake instead of a grilled chicken sandwich with a side salad and a diet soda or light lemonade. I can order a meal at McDonald’s that includes french fries and still comes in at half the calories of a “healthy” meal at a casual dining restaurant that has unreasonable portion sizes.

Healthier Happy Meals Coming Soon

So McDonald’s announced today that Happy Meals are getting healthier. The changes will start rolling out in select areas in September 2011, to be implemented nationwide by April 2012. Parents have had the option for the last few years of ordering Apple Dippers for their kids instead of fries – but only 11% of Happy Meals ordered have requested the healthier apples. The new Happy Meals will always come with fruit or veggies…and a smaller serving of fries. Happy Meal fries will be downsized from 2.4 ounces to 1.1 ounces. Consequently, the apple slices will also be downsized from 3.2 ounces to 1.2 ounces and will no longer come with caramel dipping sauce.

TJ has almost exclusively gotten Apple Dippers with his Happy Meals since they became available…except for a few occasions when my mom has taken him out to lunch and wanted to spoil her grandson with the fries that I don’t want him to have. He doesn’t eat the caramel sauce. I wasn’t thrilled with the notion of him getting fries by default, so I decided to tweet McDonald’s and ask them if a no-fries option will be available. Happily, McDonald’s replied back rather quickly to let me know that parents will have the option of ordering double apple slices if they don’t want the fries. Fat-free chocolate milk will also be available as a beverage option, and soda will have to be specifically requested instead of the default drink. The company is also committing to reduce the amount of sodium in its food over the next few years.

But people on Twitter aren’t satisfied. I’ve already seen tweets blasting McDonald’s for a reduction of “only 20%” of the calories in a Happy Meal. (This is based on an order with both the smaller fries and smaller apples.) Can you imagine how beneficial it would be if you could knock out 20% of the calories in all of your family’s meals? For an average adult consuming 2,000 calories daily, that would eliminate 400 calories a day. That would equate to a weight loss of approximately one pound every nine days, based on 3,500 calories per pound.

If causal dining restaurants would follow suit and knock out 20% of the calories in their meals, people would be rejoicing. It’s rare that I can find a sit down meal that comes in under 1,200 calories, even when looking at grilled options instead of fried. Losing 20% of those calories would knock that meal down below 1,000 calories. Ideally, I’d like a tasty meal around 800 calories, but unless I magically start liking more vegetables (and by liking I mean not gagging so much I might throw up from a single bite) I need a meal with more reasonable portion sizes. I don’t need half a pound of mashed potatoes on the side – but I do like them so much, I’ll eat them, particularly since restaurant prices are so high.

So stop knocking McDonald’s for not doing “enough” for our children’s health. Every restaurant offers unhealthy food alongside their healthy options. Grocery stores sell both healthy and unhealthy foods. It’s up to every consumer, every parent, to decide what’s best for themselves and their families. It’s all about choices and moderation. And the last time I checked, there’s no other restaurant in my area that will allow my son to run around and burn off many of the calories he’s eating in a dedicated play area. Sure, I wouldn’t want my son to eat McNuggets every day, but he gets milk and apples with his meal each time, and McDonald’s encourages him to exercise in their play area – free with every meal.

Christina Gleason (975 Posts)

That’s me: Christina Gleason. I’m a professional copywriter, editor, and blogger. My company is called Phenomenal Content. (Hire me!) I'm a multiply disabled autistic woman doing my best in this world built for abled people. I’m a geek for grammar, fantasy, and select types of gaming, including Twitch Sings and Plants vs Zombies 2. I hate vegetables. I have an intense phone phobia, so I’ll happily conduct business over email or IM instead.


  1. My problem isn’t whether or not McDonald’s changes their menu. I mean, yay for healthier options. But “Healthier than the Heart Attack In A Box We Used To Serve” doesn’t mean it should be marketed as “Look! Healthy Food!” That’s like cutting back from 2 daily chocolate bars to 1 daily chocolate bar and claiming you’re eating a healthy diet now. No, you’re eating a health*ier* diet. It’s improved, not the gold standard.
    But. McDonald’s and I have a love/hate relationship:p

  2. CrayonAngel says

    We don’t eat at McD’s very often, and I’m happy that they’re actively making changes. However, the change I’d like to see the most is the removal of the silicone based food additive that keeps the oil from foaming after repeated uses. That’d make me far more likely to eat there, and at other fast food chains, like Wendy’s.

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