According to an article in the Bend Bulletin, July 27, 2011, McDonald’s is bowing to pressure from parents and consumer groups to improve the quality of it’s “Happy Meals”–they will add 3 to 5 slices of apple and reduce french fries from a 2.5 ounce to a 1.1 ounce serving. Beverage choices will include 1% milk, fat free chocolate milk, as well as apple juice or soda. McDonald’s will be phasing out the caramel dipping sauce for apples (apple option was previously called “apple dippers”)The option of replacing fries with fruit has been available for several years, but only 11% of customers took advantage of that option.

This does decrease calories, fat and sodium in “Happy Meals”, BUT does it add nutritional value?

  • French fries–decrease calories by 129 kcal, fat by 6.2 gm and sodium by 90 mg (so far, so good!) :
    • old serving size: 2.5 ounces; 230 calories, 11 gm of fat (1.5 gm saturated fat and NO transfat), and 160 mg sodium, and 3 gm fiber
    • new serving size: 1.1 ounces; 101 calories, 4.8 gm fat (0.66 gm saturated fat), 70 mg sodium, 1.3 gm fiber
  • Apples–3 to 5 slices (about 1/2 serving of fruit)–assuming about 1/2 cup
    • adds about 40 calories, 0 fat, 0 sodium and 1.9 gm fiber (Bowes and Church’s Food Values of Portions Commonly Used, 18th Ed by Pennington and Douglass)
  • New “Happy Meals” contain about 89 fewer calories, 6.2 fewer grams of fat (0.84 fewer gm saturated fat) and 90 fewer milligrams of sodium and 0.2 additional grams of fiber.
    • Hamburger meal with 1% milk NOW: 590 calories, 23 gm fat, (6 gm saturated fat and 0.5 gm Trans fat), 810 gm sodium, and 5 gm fiber
    • Hamburger mealĀ  with 1% milk NEW VERSION: 501 calories, 16.8 gm fat (5.16 gm saturated fat and 0.5 gm Trans fat), 720 mg sodium and 5.2 gm fiber.
    • The changes do not look as impressive when you put them in context of a whole meal!
    • If we look at vitamins and minerals, apples are not terribly impressive–very little of vitamins A or C or folic acid (three things we look for in fruits and vegetables).

I applaud McDonald’s for making this VERY SMALL STEP toward improving the nutritional value of their kids’ meals, but they need to go further by actually increasing the vitamin and mineral content of these meals by incorporatingĀ  more nutrient dense vegetables and fruits in these meals. How about:

  • sweet potato fries–they would be just as high calorie as regular fries, BUT are higher in vitamins and fiber.
  • Orange slices instead of apple slices–higher in vitamin C, folic acid and potassium.
  • Addition of carrots or other raw vegetables–almost no calories, but great sources of vitamins and minerals and fiber.

Beverages are another area to tackle–

  • Soda pop is still an option–no nutrients other than sugar, which provides calories, has been shown to lead to obesity AND tooth decay.
  • Apple juice is still mainly sugar water, and is not a natural source of many vitamins or minerals (some brands are fortified with vitamin C)
    • orange juice would be a far better option! It is a good source of natural vitamin C and folic acid and contains more potassium than apple juice.
    • 1% milk is a fantastic option and should be encouraged!!
    • Fat Free Chocolate milk is far superior to soda pop or fruit juice; it contains added sugar, but it is still a great source of protein, calcium and vitamin D.

What could be easy and fast and healthier than the new McDonald’s “Happy Meal”?

  • Peanut butter and jam on whole wheat bread, baby carrots and a stem of grapes.
  • Whole wheat tortilla spread with refried beans, topped with a little cheese and heated in the microwave–top with lettuce and tomato and salsa to make a complete meal
  • Sliced meat (leftover from a previous meal, or deli meat), whole wheat crackers, cherry tomatoes and orange wedges.
  • Whole grain cereal with milk and fruit (cereal does not need to be reserved for breakfast)