McDonald's New 'Healthier' Happy Meal Still Isn’t Good for Your Kids

happy mealThis week McDonald's revealed an item we've been hearing about for months now -- the new "healthier" Happy Meal. It's the same as the old Happy Meal, only with a smaller serving of fries and a serving of pre-cut, peeled apple slices. 

You may recall that San Francisco decided to ban toys from kiddie meals unless the meals have fewer than 600 calories with less than 35 percent of those calories coming from fat. What a coincidence! All of the new "healthy" Happy Meals come in under 600 calories with fewer than 35 percent of the calories coming from fat, by gum!

But the official word from McDonald's officials is this menu change has NOTHING to do with that pesky law in San Francisco. "We've been on a nutrition journey for some time," says New York Metro VP of Operations Steve Korley.

No, it's not about toy bans; it's about enabling choices! Riiiiiiight. It's about McDonald's wanting to make it easier for you to choose a Happy Meal for your child.

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Just like kids can whine in the back seat of a car until you give in and buy them a kiddie meal, McDonald's has given in to San Francisco and is delivering their lower-calorie meal with fruit. But San Francisco's win is your win, too. McDonald's is rolling out the new Happy Meal in 620 restaurants in the New York tri-state area, Washington DC, Los Angeles, and yes, San Francisco this week, and by March the meals will be available everywhere in the US.

I got to see these meals up close yesterday at a press event, and here's what they look like:

So, the fries are smaller, the McNuggets have 10 percent less sodium, and there are apple slices. There is no extra charge for the apple option, though it still costs more to choose milk instead of soda. Mind you, those apple slices come peeled and sprayed with vitamin C and calcium carbonate so they don't turn brown and so they'll look more nutritious on paper. You know, they're "apples." (Is my kid the only kid in America who will eat a whole apple, including the peel? Anyone else?)

Nevertheless I am totally eating my words. Back in April I pooh poohed the idea of banning toys as too divisive and bad PR for health advocates. But lo and behold, look what it doth yield: The fast food giant is changing its menu.

That's not all. While I was grilling a McDonald's nutritionist about the total absence of fiber in those peeled apples and asking if their milk is rBST-free yet (nope), McDonald's PR rep Zoe Hamburger -- yes, that's her real name -- sidled up to me and mentioned that McDonald's was purchasing 12 million pounds of apples from New York State farms. Now you're speaking my locavore language! What alternate universe am I in? You can't get a locally grown apple in NYC delis even though our state is the second biggest producer in the nation, but your chances of getting local apples at my nemesis is pretty good. Humph.

Of course, I still think McDonald's food is over-processed crap, and there is no way in hell I'm taking my son there any time soon. Let me be clear about that! If anything, the "apples" are an ersatz lure to keep you buying -- basically they're the toy surprise for parents. But, as McDonald's reps told me over and over again, this is part of an ongoing effort to make their food healthier or, at any rate, less bad. So more healthy options are in the works.

Which got me wondering ... what else could we get them to do? Offer the choice of organic milk? Reduce the funky chemicals by 50 percent? Serve sweet potato fries?

What do you think about the new healthier Happy Meal? 


Image via McDonald's

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