The changes McDonald's has made to the Happy Meal are a win.
Unlike most of the buzz on the internet, I was in favor of the changes McDonald's made to the Happy Meal: smaller fries, including apple slices as a side, advertising milk as the drink of choice instead of soda. Read Why I'm Not So Unhappy About the New Happy Meal.
Now, research shows these changes have been successful:
- Kids consume an average of almost 19% fewer calories
- More meals have milk than ever before.
Does McDonald's have a long way to go before their food is really healthy? Sure. But from a habits perspective these changes are great.
The new Happy Meal teaches the right habits.
- A serving of french fries that is 56% smaller gets kids used to seeing child-sized french fries. That teaches great portion control.
- Automatically providing apple slices—without the caramel topping, by the way—gets kids used to the idea that fruit is the go-to side dish. Read How Do You Like Them Apples? for my take on caramel dipping sauce.
- Advertising milk instead of soda downplays the desirability of soda.
It's easy to vilify McDonald's and other fast food restaurants.
But the truth is that children eat more of their junk at home. Read Home Meals as Bad as Fast Food, Research Says.
And, as this research shows, kids can eat their favorite foods, learn the right habits and still cut calories.
Personally, I'm in favor of teaching children proportion—to eat really healthy foods most frequently—rather than totally restricting unhealthy foods.
It doesn't matter what your kids eat. What matters is how often they eat it.
Total restriction backfires by making the forbidden food more desirable.
I'm also in favor of teaching kids moderation: eating the right amount.
The changes McDonald's has made to the Happy Meal points kids in the right direction.
It's something to think about. It might even be something to read about!
I discuss all of these ideas in It's Not About the Broccoli.
~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~
Source:Wansink, B. and A. S. Hanks. “Calorie Reductions and Within-Meal Calorie Compensation in Children's Meal Combos.” Obesity Published online 23 Dec 2013.