The Happy Meal Goes on a Diet

August 4th, 2011 by The Responsibility Project

McDonald’s works toward making its kid-friendly meals healthier.

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In an effort to make the Happy Meal healthier for children – and to appease health advocates and concerned parents – McDonald’s is reducing the amount of fries that come with the popular kids meal by half. The New York Times reports that the new (and improved) Happy Meals will hit stores this September, and by 2015 the company aims to reduce the sodium content in all of its food by 15 percent.

It’s not the first foray that McDonald’s has taken into altering its classic kids meal, though in this particular case the pressure seems to be less overt. You may remember the 2010 ordinance in California’s Silicon Valley that outlawed giving away free toys with meals high in sugar, salt and fat that were aimed at children. Believed to be the first of its kind in the country, the ordinance “prevents restaurants from preying on children’s love of toys,” said its sponsor, Santa Clara County Supervisor Ken Yeager, and “breaks the link between unhealthy food and prizes.” At the time, the Mommy Files blog at the San Francisco Chronicle reported how, “In the case of McDonald’s, the limits would include all of the chain’s Happy Meals—even those that include apple sticks instead of French fries.”

Critics at the time believed the ban negated parental responsibility, replacing it with government meddling. “If you can’t control a 3-year-old child for a toy,” said Supervisor Donald Gage, who voted against the measure, “God save you when they get to be teenagers.” But what do you think? Will the new Happy Meals make you more likely to swing by the drive-through with your kids, or do you feel the Golden Arches still has some work to do?

(A portion of this story was previously published as “Off the Menu: Toys and Fast Food” on The Responsibility Project on 5/7/10)