NEW YORK — An apple a day may keep the doctor away. But when you put it in a Happy Meal, it might help keep regulators at bay, too.
McDonald’s on Tuesday said that it would add apple slices and reduce the portion of french fries in its children’s meal boxes beginning this fall, effectively taking away consumers’ current choice between either having apples with caramel dip or fries as a Happy Meal side.
The move by McDonald’s, which has become a leader in moving from just burgers and fries to more nutritious fare like oatmeal and salads, comes as fast-food chains face intense scrutiny from health officials and others who blame the industry for childhood obesity and other health-related problems. Some municipalities, including San Francisco, have even banned fast-food restaurants from selling kids’ meals with toys.
Critics wasted no time complaining that McDonald’s changes don’t go far enough. Kelle Louaillier, executive director of a group called Corporate Accountability International, said McDonald’s is just trying to get ahead of impending regulations that will restrict the marketing of junk food to children and require restaurants to post nutrition information on menus, among other changes.
Cindy Goody, McDonald’s senior director of nutrition, said that the new directives are “absolutely not” related to new regulations. Rather, she said, they’re a response to customers asking for healthier choices.
Apparently, customers aren’t making those choices in practice. Only about 11 percent of customers were ordering apples with their Happy Meals, even though 88 percent were aware they had the option, the restaurant said.
McDonald’s says the change will reduce calories in its “most popular” Happy Meals by as much as 20 percent. The new apple slices will not be served with caramel dipping sauce.
LaMonte Riker, a New York carpenter eating a chicken salad at a McDonald’s on Tuesday, doesn’t have kids but thinks the Happy Meal changes can’t hurt. He also said he doesn’t think it’s fair for people to blame McDonald’s for their health problems.
“It’s not McDonald’s that’s making your kids fat; you’re making your kids fat by taking them to McDonald’s,” said Riker, 44. “And I don’t think McDonald’s is that fattening if you don’t eat it on a daily basis.”