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The McDonald's kids' Happy Meal gets healthy

Dominika Osmolska Psy.D.'s picture

The kid’s Happy meal at McDonalds is about to transform: the company announced today that it is going to make it more healthy by serving half the French fries that used to go with it. It will also now come with a quarter cup side of apple slices and fat-free milk, regular or chocolate flavored.

McDonalds said it is responding to the desires of their customers, whose children are battling being overweight or obese. Doubtless, sly restaurant analysts also figure the parents will purchase a regular meal of their own along for the ride.

McDonalds makes more than $32 billion in sales every year, ten percent of which is rumored to be in Happy Meals. By refashioning the kids’ meal, they stand to boost their already hefty $3 billion profit on those meals alone. The company is also fast responding to the competition’s announcement earlier this month to provide healthier children’s menu choices. The "Kids LiveWell" campaign was signed by Burger King, IHOP, Denny's, Cracker Barrel and Sizzler, among others.

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The announcement is more publicity fluff than substance. To be fair, McDonalds has long offered healthier options, and healthier substitutions have been there for the asking. The company sells many diet-worthy items, including a delicious oatmeal cup and a yogurt fruit parfait. Milk and fruit instead of soda and fries are readily provided – it’s just that parents have not bothered to implement the switch. Why? Well, doubtless the kids have something to do with it.

If you are venturing out to eat at the Golden Arches, your expectations are not going to be to eat healthy. Kids especially expect a treat. An occasional treat is not a problem. The problem is that the treat becomes a ritual, which becomes a frequent habit.

Our lives today are such that we have to actively and continuously fight the urge for convenience, which beckons at every corner. We practically live out of our cars and on the road. We put in long hours at work. Children’s lives are often tightly scheduled, necessitating even more time in the car and away from home.

Let’s face it: the only way kids will eat healthy is with home cooked meals, where the ingredients and portions can be controlled. The longer we spend away from home, the more likely we are going to give in to exhaustion and head for the nearest convenient, pre-packaged meal. And let’s not kid ourselves. The kids are going to eat the hamburger and the fries and leave the apple slices nibbled at best, untouched at worst. And they will probably compensate for the lost calories later on in the day with whatever convenient snacks we have left for them around the house.