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McDonald’s announces major changes to the Happy Meal. Here’s what to expect

McDonald’s announced on Thursday that it hopes to provide a more balanced Happy Meal to children around the world.
McDonald’s announced on Thursday that it hopes to provide a more balanced Happy Meal to children around the world.
Keith Srakocic, AP

McDonald’s is about to change everything you know about the Happy Meal.

McDonald’s announced Thursday that it hopes to provide a Happy Meal for children around the world that focuses on nutritional value.

By the year 2022, the company anticipates at least 50 percent or more of the items in the Happy Meal will meet these new criteria:

  • 600 or less calories.
  • No more than 10 percent of calories from saturated fat.
  • No more than 650 mg of sodium.
  • No more than 10 percent of calories from added sugar.
  • Downsize fries served with the chicken nuggets to a new kiddie size, instead of the traditional small size.
  • Offer books as replacement options for the Happy Meal toys in all markets by the end of 2019.
  • Eliminate chocolate milk. It can be added upon customer request. Bottled water will be added as a replacement option.

"We recognize the opportunity that we have to support families as one of the most visited restaurants in the world, and remain committed to elevating our food, celebrating the joy of reading, and helping those in need through Ronald McDonald House Charities," Steve Easterbrook, McDonald's president and CEO, said in a press release about the changes. "Given our scale and reach, we hope these actions will bring more choices to consumers and uniquely benefit millions of families, which are important steps as we build a better McDonald's."

According to NPR, the changes may only lead to some small tweaks. For example, some U.S. restaurants have offered organic apple juice, which has lowered the amount of calories and sugar in the Happy Meal.

The American Heart Association said in a statement to NPR that it is pleased with the chain’s changes.

"This is an important step in the right direction and we look forward to seeing how today's announcement will lead to kids eating fewer calories and less sugar, saturated fat and sodium," said associate CEO Nancy Brown.

McDonald’s will test the changes outside the U.S.

According to Reuters, McDonald’s offers grilled chicken sandwiches in Italy, pineapple spears in Spain and cooked corn in China, Japan and Taiwan.

Jennifer Harris, who works at the University of Connecticut's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, told USA Today that the changes may help parents shift their children away from unhealthy fast-food options.

"A lot of times, the options are available, but they're one choice out of many. If you're in a restaurant and your child smells french fries and sees the soda, it’s very difficult for kids to get the healthier choices," she said. "It increases the perception that these are healthy places, so it's OK to bring your kids there, but once inside, the whole environment is pushing unhealthy options. If you're a parent, do you risk having a meltdown or do you get your child what’s most appealing to them?"

McDonald’s announced in January it plans to bring back its Archburger, which is made with fresh beef, according to the Deseret News. McDonald’s made several changes last year as well, bringing back its $1 menu with $2 and $3 options. McDonald’s also added a chicken Big Mac to its menu.