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Diet Diva

Get advice on healthy eating, nutrition, and weight loss from expert dietitian Tara Gidus. 

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A Healthier Happy Meal on the Horizon

McDonald's plan to reduce calorie count for kid's meals.

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McDonald's Happy Meal logo.By now, you're probably aware that McDonald’s recently announced its plan to reduce its Happy Meals' overall calorie count by 20 percent. Launching in September, the new Happy Meal will contain a 100-calorie portion of fries and include a package of apples minus the caramel dipping sauce. This will reduce calories from 520 kcal and 26 gm of fat to 410 kcal and 19 gm of fat. Yes, the toy will still be included. Bravo McDonald’s! I’m lovin’ it! It’s definitely a step in the right direction.

Happy Meals have long been vilified by parents and some health agencies for associating toys with high calorie, high fat meals. As a parent of two young boys, my kids love the toy and look forward to getting it. I don’t have a problem with them looking forward to it—a few times per month, which is how often I frequent fast food restaurants with my children. It’s not the toy that’s the problem—it’s the frequency and choices parents are making with their kids. 

The option to substitute fries instead of apples has been available since 2004, however a study conducted by Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity found that only 11 percent took advantage of this. Another surprising statistic: since Happy Meals were introduced in 1979, they’ve accounted for less than 10 percent of all McDonald’s sales.

I understand it’s difficult to find time for healthy options, for ourselves and our children, in our fast-paced lives. But making a PBJ doesn’t take much time, and simply planning ahead can save a lot of runs through the drive thru. We like to pick on the big fast food giants (especially McDonald’s), but often people don’t cook quite as healthy at home as they’d like to believe. 

How can you reduce calories by 20 percent?

  • Replace sweetened beverages like sodas or sweet tea with water.  Replacing two sodas per day can eliminate 500 calories (depending on size) or more daily.
  • Skip the creamy condiments. Mayonnaise, butter, and ranch dressings are some of the creamy extras that can pack on the pounds.
  • Increase your intake of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains daily. According to the recent dietary guidelines, Americans are lacking in potassium, dietary fiber, calcium, and vitamin D.

If parents model good nutritious eating, it will help set the stage for lifelong healthy eating and weight management behaviors for their children.

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Tags: Cooking Healthy , Healthy Eating , Quick and Healthy , Restaurant Nutrition

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About the Author


MS, RD, CSSD, LD/N

Tara Gidus is a nationally recognized expert and spokesperson on nutrition and fitness.

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