Starting in November, McDonald's will start offering a lower-sugar, organic juice as an option with Happy Meals. Honest Kids organic apple juice will replace Minute Maid apple juice on the menu, a switch that means 45 fewer calories 11 fewer grams of sugar.
Instead of 100 percent juice, Honest Kids apple juice is a combination of water and juice, which lowers the calorie and sugar content (that's why the label notes it's 42 percent juice). It joins low-fat milk and fat-free chocolate milk as Happy Meal drink options listed on the menu. Honest Kids juices are already offered at Subway, Wendy's, and Chick-fil-A as part of their kids' meals.
"This is part of a commitment by McDonald's to raise the bar on our food," McDonald's spokesperson Becca Hary told Parents in an email. "We are committed to continuing our food journey for the benefit of our guests." She also notes that their Chicken McNuggets are now free of artificial preservatives, flavors and colors and that they only serve chicken raised without antibiotics that are important to human medicine.
McDonald's has made other changes to Happy Meals along the way, like offering apples slices and yogurt as sides and shrinking the portion of French fries. A few years ago, they also stopped promoting soda as a beverage for kids (though parents can still request it).
"The nutritional quality of kids' meals matter because children are getting about a quarter of their calories from eating out," says Margo Wootan, DSc, Vice President of Nutrition at Center for Science in the Public Interest. But she worries that this move puts a "health halo" over the apple juice that it doesn't deserve. "Kids would be better off with low-fat milk," she says.
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Registered dietitian and mom Kate Geagan agrees that apple juice isn't something to get too excited about. "It's essentially just quickly absorbed simple sugars," says Geagan, who notes that while she's happy to see organic products available to more customers, she still doesn't consider fast food to be a good choice for kids. "I appreciate the effort to continually improve the options in a kids meal, but this doesn't change my perception of Happy Meals."
About a third of children eat fast food on any given day, says Wootan.
Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. She is the author of The Snacktivist's Handbook: How to Change the Junk Food Snack Culture at School, in Sports, and at Camp—and Raise Healthier Snackers at Home. She also collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.