McDonald's has always been accused of serving up unhealthy fast food, not least to kids in its Happy Meals. All that is about to change with a shift in the business's approach to nutrition.


Whether they regularly hit up fast food chains or go on a more sporadic basis, most parents would prefer that these ubiquitous establishments offered more nutritionally sound options for their kids. That end game may very well be in sight. McDonald's announced in February 2018 that they're setting their sights on shaping up their Happy Meal offerings to make parents happier and kids healthier.

The fast food chain said it aims to serve more fruit, vegetables, low-fat dairy, whole grains, lean protein, and water in Happy Meals, while simultaneously reducing the combos' calories, fat, sodium and added sugar.

Here are some of the changes that have already taken place:

  • Cheeseburgers left the kids' menu in 2018 (but parents can still order them) The main options are now regular hamburgers and four- and six-piece Chicken McNuggets.
  • French fry portions got smaller, going from a "small" size to a "kid's" size.
  • Side choices include apple slices and Yoplait® Go-GURT® Low Fat Strawberry Yogurt.
  • Chocolate milk and soda are no longer options for Happy Meals. Instead, parents can choose water, 1% low-fat white milk, or Honest Kids Appley Ever After Apple Juice Drink.
  • Chicken McNuggets contain no artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors.
  • Hamburgers also have no artificial preservatives or flavors, and you won't find any added colors from artificial sources. (However, McDonald's says the pickles contain artificial preservatives.)

Although these changes have happened recently, they've made a major impact, according to Cindy Goody, the senior nutrition director of McDonald's. She says that 15 percent more customers chose milk, water, or juice to accompany Happy Meals in September 2018 than in September 2013. What's more, the fast food chain distributed 250 million apple slice packets in 2018.

The end goal is that 50 percent or more of the Happy Meal bundle offerings shown on menus around the world will meet the criteria of fewer than or equal to 600 calories; less than or equal to 10 per cent of calories from saturated fat; fewer than or equal to 650 milligrams of sodium; and less than or equal to 10 per cent of calories from added sugar.

The Toronto Star reports that, before these changes, Happy Meals ranged anywhere from 300 to nearly 800 calories across North America. This initiative marks the first time the chain has established finite nutrition goals for one of their meal combos. And they're planning on doing it in the company’s 120 markets around the world, including the 1,400 restaurants in Canada.

Given all of the slight, healthier tweaks that have been made to Happy Meals over the years, this is of course not the first time that McDonald's has aimed to show that they are bearing their youngest consumers' wellness in mind. But it definitely seems to be their most ambitious effort yet!