CHICAGO â€” Under pressure from health and childrenâ€™s advocacy groups, McDonaldâ€™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 McDonaldâ€™s restaurants in the U.S. by April.
McDonaldâ€™s said it first experimented with cutting fries entirely from the Happy Meals, but children and parents rebelled.
â€œPeople come to McDonaldâ€™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,â€ said Jan Fields, president of McDonaldâ€™s USA. â€œWhen we did it without fries, there was a huge disappointment factor.â€
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 theyâ€™re being served, Fields said.
Although subject to variation depending on whatâ€™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 worldâ€™s largest restaurant chain by sales, McDonaldâ€™s has been under intense scrutiny for the nutritional quality of its food and its marketing to children. Critics have strongly challenged the chainâ€™s practice of selling kidsâ€™ meals that include a toy, connecting it to the nationâ€™s obesity crisis.
Last year, San Francisco and Santa Clara County, Calif., banned toys with meals at fast food restaurants if the meals didnâ€™t meet certain nutritional criteria. Similar legislation has been proposed in New York.
â€œWe know weâ€™re a leader and we know we need to be part of the solution,â€ McDonaldâ€™s spokeswoman Danya Proud said. â€œBut we canâ€™t be looked at as providing the only solution.â€
The business strategy for McDonaldâ€™s is to make parents feel less guilty about feeding fast food to their children, so theyâ€™ll become more frequent customers.