Happy Meals to get a little healthier

July 26, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Starting in September, children will get apples with their McDonald's Happy Meals -- and fewer fries.

McDonald's first experimented with eliminating French fries completely from the menu, but the company says children and parents rebelled. So they brought them back, only in a smaller portion. By the beginning of next year, McDonald's will include a half-order of apples and a half-order of fries in the Happy Meal. But, customers can still request a full order of one or the other instead.

McDonald's says the apples are currently available in Happy Meals instead of fries, but only 11 percent of people ordered them.

The new Happy Meal will have 20-percent fewer calories and less sodium and saturated fat.

"I think it's a great idea for how things are going today with kids and obesity," said Sue Lynchey. And Lynchey's daughter, Lauren, says she'll eat the apples.

McDonald's will also provide low-fat chocolate milk. Soda will be available, but only on request.

"Most kids really like chocolate milk anyway instead of pop," Sara Connelly said. Her 6-year-old daughter, Rachel Meilenger, said she will eat the apples, but says French fries are her favorite part of the Happy Meal.

Under the new program: McDonald's pledged to reduce sugars, saturated fats and calories through "varied portion sizes, reformulations and innovations" by 2020. It didn't give details. By 2015, it will reduce sodium by 15 percent.

The changes are what customers are asking for, according to Cindy Goody, McDonald's senior director of nutrition.

"We've been in the nutrition game for over 30 years in providing nutrition information to our customers," Goody said. "Now what we're doing is we're adding more food groups and ... creating nutritional awareness."

Critics have also been asking for change. Dr. Stephen Rothschild is a preventative medicine expert at Rush University Medical Center.

"McDonald's has an enormous amount of influence on direct marketing to children. And so they have a very powerful voice. And adding apples to that voice is a good piece," Dr. Rothschild said.

Goody said they're not getting rid of fries altogether because "all foods fit when consumed in moderation."

Earlier in July, at least 19 large restaurant chains came forward, saying they would focus on increasing servings of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and low-fat dairy with their meals. It was part of a voluntary program through the National Restaurant Association's new Kids Live Well program. At the time, McDonald's had not signed on but said it would consider participating in the future.

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