Is McDonald’s Healthy Menu Just a Marketing Ruse?

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After several tough years, McDonald’s claims to be making big changes to its image, with a complete 180 from fatty, greasy fast food to healthier, more nutritious menu offerings.

In a recent interview with Business Insider, McDonald’s chef Jessica Foust, a registered dietitian and graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, claimed that McDonald's healthy menu was becoming more central to the chain's M.O. And while McDonald's is still far from the healthiest choice out there, several of its menu changes are actually shaping up to be fairly interesting.

McDonald’s Healthy Menu Allows the Idea of “Healthy” to Evolve

Consumers’ ideas of what healthy is have evolved over the years, and as McDonald’s continues to propose healthier options, the corporation is following suit. Its salad blends, for example, recently changed to include red leaf lettuce and carrot curls, more healthy than the iceberg lettuce salads of menus past.

"They didn't feel iceberg lettuce was a nutritious green, and they didn't feel good about eating it in a salad," Foust told Business Insider.

This follows in line with the current idea that healthy isn't just an absence of things like calories, fat, and sodium, but the actual presence of nutritious vitamins and minerals, found in dark, leafy greens and vegetables.

Another way in which McDonald’s is following current health trends is by swapping in real or more natural ingredients whenever possible.

"One of the thing that our team is most proud of recently is our transition to butter," says Foust. In October 2015, McDonald’s switched from margarine to butter for its McMuffins and quickly doubled sales, showing that these changes are also garnering support with consumers.

One of the most recent healthful changes that McDonald's was announced earlier this week: the removal of high-fructose corn syrup from its burger buns and artificial preservatives from several of its menu options, in line with choices made this year by Nestlé Dreyer's ice cream, Mars, Inc., and Papa John's.

McDonald’s Keeps Kids’ Health in Mind

One of the first additions to McDonald’s healthy menu was the choice of apples instead of fries with kids’ menus in 2004. The issue, however, was that no one was choosing apples – not because parents didn’t think it was a good idea, but because they didn’t want to convince their kids it was.

"What we had learned from our customers was that they didn't want to have to fight with their kids about choosing apples or fries," says Foust. In 2011, McDonald’s changed the offering, including both apples and a smaller portion of fries in every Happy Meal.

These smaller changes seem to show that McDonald's really wants to make a difference in the lives of its consumers, and that the McDonald's healthy menu isn't a pure marketing ruse.

According to a Forbes analysis, McDonald's would be better off having two menus, allowing customers to choose between an unhealthier value menu and a pricier healthy menu. This would allow McDonald’s to retain its image of a “value chain” while also appealing to those who are in favor of healthier options.

By choosing instead to allow all consumers access to healthier options, the McDonald's healthy menu makeover seems to be genuine, and a definite step in the right direction for the chain.

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McDonald's image via Shutterstock

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