Can a Happy Meal ever truly be healthy? McDonald’s on Thursday announced plans to cut the calories in its meals for children and introduce more stringent calorie, sodium, saturated fat, and added sugar limits globally.
To that end, U.S. Happy Meals will include cheeseburgers and chocolate milk only upon request, with bottled water added as a healthy alternative to juice or soda. French fry portions will be halved in an effort to keep the amount of sodium at 650 mg or less.
The new international guidelines, which the fast-food chain hopes to apply to at least half its menus by 2022, also call for a calorie count of 600 or less, with 10 percent from saturated fat and added sugar. McDonald’s added that it expects its U.S. menus to be compliant with the new calorie, fat, and sugar guidelines by this June, though Happy Meals will reach only 78 percent of the sodium target by that time.
The chain, working with Alliance for a Healthier Generation, also pledged to introduce additional healthier options. As many as 100 U.S. markets will stock books with the meals by the end of 2019. The move comes in response to criticism about McDonald’s use of toys and action figures as promotional tools.
But are these “healthy” new targets really that healthy? They are not, according to registered dietitian and pediatric and family nutritionist Nicole Silber.
“McDonald’s is taking baby steps in reformulating their children’s offerings, but they still have a long way to go,” Silber tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Six hundred calories for a single meal is still excessive for a child! For most age groups, 600 calories would amount to more than half of the daily caloric requirements.”
Silber adds that parents shouldn’t be fooled into thinking the revamped Happy Meals represent real change.
“I am worried parents will interpret these baby steps as significant, and will now think
McDonald’s is actually a healthy option,” she cautions. “In addition to cutting down the portions, they need to reformulate their recipes, cooking techniques, and ingredients by replacing frying with grilling, and switching to lean proteins — like white meat poultry and lean beef — and whole-grain options.”
It’s undoubtedly a step in the right direction — but there’s still a long way to go.
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