Jul 262011
 
Authors: McClatchy-Tribune

CHICAGO — Under pressure from health and children’s advocacy groups, McDonald’s Corp. is making changes to its famed Happy Meals.

The fast food chain will add a serving of fruit or vegetable to all of the meals, which are aimed at children, and shrink the portion of French fries.

The changes, announced Tuesday, will take effect in September in some markets and then roll out to all 14,000 McDonald’s restaurants in the U.S. by April.

McDonald’s said it first experimented with cutting fries entirely from the Happy Meals, but children and parents rebelled.

“People come to McDonald’s and, first of all, they want the choice and the control to be theirs, but their expectation of a Happy Meal does include a fry,” said Jan Fields, president of McDonald’s USA. “When we did it without fries, there was a huge disappointment factor.”

The new French fry holders in Happy Meals will contain 1.1 ounces of potatoes, down from 2.4. Apple slices will often be included as the healthful side dish, but it could also be carrots, raisins, pineapple slices or mandarin oranges, depending on the time of year and the region in which they’re being served, Fields said.

Although subject to variation depending on what’s ordered, the new meals will represent, on average, a 20 percent decrease in calories, the chain said.

Fields said Happy Meal prices will not go up as a result of the changes. But the chain has raised prices this year as a result of soaring commodity costs.

As the world’s largest restaurant chain by sales, McDonald’s has been under intense scrutiny for the nutritional quality of its food and its marketing to children. Critics have strongly challenged the chain’s practice of selling kids’ meals that include a toy, connecting it to the nation’s obesity crisis.

Last year, San Francisco and Santa Clara County, Calif., banned toys with meals at fast food restaurants if the meals didn’t meet certain nutritional criteria. Similar legislation has been proposed in New York.

“We know we’re a leader and we know we need to be part of the solution,” McDonald’s spokeswoman Danya Proud said. “But we can’t be looked at as providing the only solution.”
The business strategy for McDonald’s is to make parents feel less guilty about feeding fast food to their children, so they’ll become more frequent customers.

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