Last week the National Restaurant Association teamed up with more than a dozen restaurant chains, including Burger King, to introduce their "Kids LiveWell" program aimed at bringing healthier food children eating out. Today the biggest fast food restaurant of them all, those golden arches ruled over by a smiling clown with a thing for small children, McDonald's, is set to announce its latest foray into less deadly food for tots. You want a side of raisins with that?
After having pretty successfully worked to keep Happy Meal bans off the books, the fast food giant is ready to do something for the kids. Back in 2004 McDonald's started letting wee ones replace their fries with apples that come with low-fat caramel dipping sauce ("apple dippers"). It was a modest success: The company says that about 11% of customers opt for the apples in their Happy Meals. Now they are taking it up a notch. Starting in September all Happy Meals will come with a smaller portion of fries and a serving of fruit or vegetables. By April the new meals should be available at all of the company's 14,000 stores in the U.S.
The new fry containers will have less than half as many fries as the old (1.1 ounces versus 2.4) ones and will be served with anything from apples (without the caramel sauce) to carrots to pineapple slices to raisins, depending on the region, the time of year and the Happy Meal's other contents. The company originally talked about removing the fries entirely, they say (riiiiight), but found that children and their families simply wouldn't accept a Happy Meal without them. Any kids who don't want fries can get two servings of fruit.
So basically—if we are being realistic and understanding this right—McDonald's will now be charging parents the same price for a happy meal with less fries and some filler food the kid will most likely throw a temper tantrum rather than consume. Or, maybe, this is the start of a glorious new age in which children learn at an early age that there is little as tasty as a "fresh" apple slice pulled from a plastic bag that has been warmed inside a cardboard box by a tiny clump of fried potatoes and a small industrial hamburger. Meanwhile, we're still waiting for the company to follow the Internet's lead and start injecting sauces into McNuggets.