Parents who can’t get their kids to eat anything except fast food may be a little happier when they scream for the Golden Arches.
McDonald’s is rolling out a new Happy Meal that automatically includes apple slices — without caramel sauce — and downsized French fries along with the choice of Chicken McNuggets, a hamburger or cheeseburger.
The new Happy Meal hits New England on Friday under the chain’s initiative to help families make more nutrition-minded choices.
The changes are a “small step,” according to professor Marion Nestle of New York University’s department of nutrition, food studies and public health.
“Now if they would just make milk or juice the default instead of soda,” she said. McDonald’s instead will offer fat-free chocolate milk or 1 percent milk as “promoted options” with Happy Meals.
The new default Happy Meal has reduced calories, fat and sodium. The smaller, 1.1-ounce fries have less than half the calories, fat and sodium of the current 2.5-ounce fries included with the meals. And the elimination of the caramel cuts out 70 calories, 0.5 fat grams and 35 milligrams of salt.
“By offering the apple slices and smaller fries, we’re providing more balanced options for children and parents to feed their children,” said Nicole DiNoia, McDonald’s Boston-area spokeswoman. “Sometimes parents have trouble saying ‘no’ when it comes to French fries, and it’s troublesome to get kids to eat fruits and vegetables.”
The question is, will kids bite? Apple “dippers” with caramel sauce have been an optional Happy Meal replacement for fries since 2004, but McDonald’s says they were ordered only 11 percent of the time.
A recent report by Chicago restaurant consultancy Technomic found 70 percent of moms order off kids’ menus because their kids “want it,” while only 13 percent said “healthy options” were the reason.
“You can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink,” said Darren Tristano, Technomic executive vice president. “It’s an obligation of the parents to have the child eating something healthier as well as the child to eat it.”