Happy Meals to include produce, low-fat options

by Eric Schroeder
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OAK BROOK, ILL. — McDonald’s Corp. has unveiled a program to offer improved nutrition choices at its restaurants that includes adding apples to all its Happy Meals as well as a pledge to reduce sugars, saturated fats, sodium and calories.

The program, tabbed “Commitments to Offer Improved Nutrition Choices,” was detailed by Jan Fields, president of McDonald’s USA, on July 26.

“McDonald’s will always try to do the right thing, and we know we can help make a difference in our communities,” Ms. Fields said. “The commitments we’re announcing today will guide the future evolution of our menu and marketing.”

As part of its effort to address childhood obesity, McDonald’s said it automatically will include produce or a low-fat dairy option in every Happy Meal and promote options that meet the Council of Better Business Bureaus Food Pledge nutrition standards by the first quarter of 2012. The new Happy Meals will begin rolling out this September and will include both produce (apple slices, a quarter cup or half serving) and a new smaller size french fries (1.1 oz) along with the choice of a hamburger, cheeseburger or Chicken McNuggets, and a choice of beverage, including new fat-free chocolate milk and 1% low-fat white milk. Customers may choose to replace the french fries with an extra bag of apple slices, McDonald’s said.

The impact will reduce calories an estimated 20% in the most popular Happy Meals and also will reduce fat in the meal, the company said. Even though McDonald’s has offered apple slices as a side option in Happy Meals since 2004, only 11% of consumers have chosen them in place of fries, McDonald’s said.

“Recent research has shown that younger children are consuming more fruits and vegetables, but we still have a long way to go to increase consumption to meet daily recommendations for these important food groups,” said Elizabeth Pivonka, Ph.D., R.D., president and chief executive officer of Produce for Better Health Foundation. “McDonald’s announcement to include apples in every Happy Meal and being the first quick-service restaurant to do so further strengthens their seven years of support in our campaign to educate children and their parents on the benefits of fruits and vegetables.”

In 2012, McDonald’s also will raise nutrition awareness among children and parents through national marketing initiatives. The company will promote nutrition messages in 100% of its national communications to children, including merchandising, advertising, digital and the Happy Meal packaging.

Beyond changes to the restaurant’s Happy Meal, McDonald’s said it will reduce sodium an average of 15% across its national menu by 2015, and by 2020 plans to reduce added sugars, saturated fat and calories through “varied portion sizes, reformulations and innovations.” The restaurant chain already has reduced sodium by 10% in the majority of its national chicken menu offerings, most recently Chicken McNuggets.

McDonald’s also said it plans to provide customers and employees with greater access to nutrition information. For example, the company will expand new in-restaurant, web site and mobile communications, and marketing vehicles, making access to this information even easier. To begin, McDonald’s is now making available its first mobile app so customers can access nutrition information on-the-go.

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