McDonald’s has announced major changes to its Happy Meals with the goal of making offerings for children healthier. As part of the changes, 100 percent of Happy Meal combinations sold in the United States will contain 600 calories or fewer by June.
A lowered calorie count is just one element of the chain's new Global Happy Meal Nutrition Criteria, which will also require Happy Meals to contain less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fat and 10 percent from added sugar. Happy Meals will also contain no more than 650 milligrams of sodium.
Happy Meals in the United States will be 100 percent compliant with the added sugar and saturated fat criteria and 78 percent compliant with the new sodium requirement by June, while half of all Happy Meals sold across the globe will comply with the criteria by 2022. Currently, 28 percent of Happy Meal combinations are already in compliance.
To facilitate these changes, McDonald’s plans to add new menu items, such as the Junior Chicken grilled chicken sandwich recently launched in Italy. The chain will also remove some options from featured Happy Meal choices, such as cheeseburgers. While customers will still be able to request cheeseburgers as part of their Happy Meal, McDonald's expects demand to fall: since the chain removed soda from Happy Meal options in 2013, orders for it have fallen 14 percent, the company told the Guardian.
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McDonald's will remove chocolate milk from the menu until it has been reformulated to reduce the amount of sugar it contains. The chain will also reduce the size of French fries served with the 6-piece Chicken McNugget option in order to reduce overall fat and sodium in the meal.
“We recognize the opportunity that we have to support families as one of the most-visited restaurants in the world and remain committed to elevating our food,” said Steve Easterbrook, president and CEO of McDonald’s. “Given our scale and reach, we hope these actions will bring more choices to consumers and uniquely benefit millions of families, which are important steps as we build a better McDonald’s.”
The American Heart Association told CNN that this announcement is an “important step in the right direction,” noting that 40 percent of young children eat fast food every day. Roughly 15 percent of McDonald's customers order Happy Meals, Stifel analyst Chris O’Cull told the outlet.
This announcement joins others that McDonald's has made in recent years to improve the healthfulness of its menu offerings. In 2015, the chain made a high-profile commitment to transition to cage-free eggs, inspiring other brands and chains across the country to make the same pledge. In 2016, McDonald's announced that it would be removing high-fructose corn syrup from its burger buns and artificial preservatives from menu items including its Chicken McNuggets, and last year, it announced it would stop selling chicken raised with the highest priority antibiotics in order to help reduce the problem of antibiotic resistance.
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