Healthier Happy Meals

McDonald's commits to improved nutrition choices, communication; adds more fruit, veggies

OAK BROOK, Ill. -- McDonald's USA LLC president Jan Fields has announced the "Commitments to Offer Improved Nutrition Choices." The initiative aims to help customers, especially families and children, make nutrition-minded choices. The main aspect of the plan is that McDonald's will automatically include fruit and vegetables or low-fat dairy in every Happy Meal.

Menu changes underway include the addition of more nutritionally-balanced choices "that meet McDonald's reputation for great taste and affordability," along with an increased focus on providing nutrition information [image-nocss] that enable customers and employees to make simple, informed menu decisions.

"McDonald's will always try to do the right thing, and we know we can help make a difference in our communities," said Jan Fields, president, McDonald's USA. "The commitments we're announcing today will guide the future evolution of our menu and marketing."

Actions in support of the nutrition commitments are already underway at the chain's 14,000 U.S. restaurants. McDonald's commitments to offer improved nutrition choices include:

Championing children's well-being: McDonald's will automatically include produce or a low-fat dairy option in every Happy Meal and promote options that meet the rigorous Council for Better Business Bureaus Food Pledge nutrition standards by first-quarter 2012. The impact will be an estimated 20% reduction in calories of the most popular Happy Meals, also reducing fat in the meal.

In 2012, McDonald's will also raise nutrition awareness among children and parents through national marketing initiatives. The company will promote nutrition messages in 100% of its national kids' communications, including merchandising, advertising, digital and the Happy Meal packaging. McDonald's will also provide funding for grass roots community nutrition awareness programs.

Expanding and improving nutritionally-balanced menu choices: By 2020, McDonald's will reduce added sugars, saturated fat and calories through varied portion sizes, reformulations and innovations. Also, by 2015, McDonald's will reduce sodium an average of 15% overall across its national menu of food choices.

Increasing customers' and employees' access to nutrition information: McDonald's will expand new in-restaurant, website and mobile communications, and marketing vehicles making access to this information even easier. To begin, McDonald's is now making available its first mobile app so customers can access nutrition information on-the-go (click here for details).

During the past two years, the McDonald's system has significantly invested in nutritional menu innovations and communications. Examples include investing in scientific and customer research, expanded agricultural supply chain contracts, an expanded team of nutrition experts, and updating nutrition information on McDonald's website.

Sodium Reduction: McDonald's has already reduced sodium by 10% in the majority of its national chicken menu offerings--most recently Chicken McNuggets, a Happy Meal favorite. Sodium reductions will continue across the menu in accordance with the company's 2015 commitments.

New Happy Meal: McDonald's will begin rolling out the new Happy Meal in September 2011, with the goal of having them available in all 14,000 restaurants during Q1 2012. The new Happy Meal will automatically include both produce (apple slices, a quarter cup or half serving) and a new smaller size French fries (1.1 ounces) along with the choice of a hamburger, cheeseburger or Chicken McNuggets, and choice of beverage, including new fat-free chocolate milk and 1% low fat white milk. For those customers who prefer a side choice of apples only, two bags of apple slices will be available, upon request.

By adding fruit in every Happy Meal, McDonald's hopes to address a challenge children face in meeting the recommended daily consumption of produce.

McDonald's has offered apples as a requested choice in Happy Meals since 2004. And, while recent research found that on average, 88% of McDonald's customers are aware of the option, apples are chosen in only 11% of Happy Meal purchases.

For many months and in some cases, years, McDonald's has been engaging suppliers, government and nongovernment organizations to determine ways it could play a role in helping society address today's obesity concerns. McDonald's will develop additional fruit and vegetable choices and expects them to roll out over the next few years. The company will continue to evaluate new scientific research, public health statistics and customer insights and behavior to determine further nutrition adaptations to Happy Meals.

"McDonald's agrees with leading food and nutrition experts that making incremental lifestyle modifications with food consumption may lead to improvements in an individual's well-being," said Cindy Goody, PhD, MBA, RD, McDonald's senior director of nutrition. "We support parents in their effort to encourage their children to enjoy the foods that are good for them along with the foods they love."

Children's Food & Beverage Advertising Initiative: Since 2006, McDonald's has supported the Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB) Children's Food & Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI) involving a voluntary Food Pledge to only nationally advertise products to kids that represent healthier dietary choices. McDonald's was actively engaged in the process to help develop CBBB's recently announced more rigorous pledge standards, which include stricter sodium and sugar criteria, zero grams artificial trans fat per labeled serving and requirements for nutrient components to encourage.

Listening tour: To ensure that the company's ongoing commitments are supporting parents and communities, Fields and McDonald's U.S. executive leadership team will embark on a national listening tour in August. They will hear directly from parents and nutrition experts about how McDonald's can play a role in this important topic. McDonald's will launch a new online parents' community that provides a forum for McDonald's and parents to more frequently engage in dialog around these important topics.

Accountability and measurement: To evaluate McDonald's progress and the impacts of its nutrition commitments, McDonald's will rely on independent third-parties with expertise in children's well-being. The company is establishing a Kids' Food & Nutrition Advisory Board comprised of parents and experts in children's nutrition, education and behavior to help develop effective nutrition and active lifestyle marketing messages and programming for kids.

McDonald's will also enter into an agreement with a third-party organization to collaborate on a comprehensive measurement process that sets benchmarks and annual progress against commitment goals, which will be reported publicly.

Separately, the National Restaurant Association recently unveiled a similar nationwide initiative that provides parents and children with a growing selection of healthful menu options when dining out. Kids LiveWell, launched in collaboration with Healthy Dining, highlights how restaurants are creating innovative solutions to provide better-for-you menu options.

More than 15,000 restaurant locations are participating in this initial launch, the group said.

Kids LiveWell is a voluntary initiative that shows the restaurant industry's commitment to offering healthful menu items for children, with a focus on increasing consumption of fruit and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and low-fat dairy, and limiting unhealthy fats, sugars and sodium.

Inaugural Kids LiveWell leaders include Au Bon Pain, Bonefish Grill, Burger King, Burgerville, Carrabba's Italian Grill, Chevys Fresh Mex, Chili's Grill & Bar, Corner Bakery Cafe, Cracker Barrel, Denny's, El Pollo Loco, Friendly's, IHOP, Joe's Crab Shack, Outback Steakhouse, Silver Diner, Sizzler, T-Bones Great American Eatery and zpizza.

To join Kids LiveWell, restaurants agree to offer and promote a selection of items that meet qualifying criteria based on leading health organizations' scientific recommendations, including the 2010 U.S.Department of Agriculture (USDA) Dietary Guidelines. Healthy Dining's team of registered dietitians has worked with participating restaurants to identify and validate the menu choices that meet the criteria.

The criteria include the following components: Offer a children's meal (an entree, side and beverage) with 600 calories or less; two servings of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and/or low-fat dairy; with limits on sodium, fats and sugar. Offer at least one other individual item with 200 calories or less, with limits on fats, sugars and sodium, plus contain a serving of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein or low-fat dairy. Display or make available upon request the nutrition profile of the healthful menu options; and Promote/identify the healthful menu options.