By now you’ve probably heard that McDonald’s is getting ready to roll out its new Happy Meal.  Nutritionists are not impressed.

Marion Nestle says, “If McDonald’s were serious, it could offer a truly healthier Happy Meal as the default and back it up with marketing dollars.”  Read Nestle’s complete statement.

Instead, the Happy Meal hoopla boils down to a meal that now will include:

  • 3 or 4 slices of apple
  • one ounce less of French Fries
  • Less sodium

From a nutrition perspective, these changes don’t amount to a hill of beans.  But from a habits perspective, they’re worth considering.

It’s easy to scoff at the addition of 3 or 4 apple slices to the Happy Meal, but who else can so easily convince kids to eat apples?

I’m not saying that I wouldn’t like to see bigger changes.  Of course I would.  But I’m looking forward to seeing what happens when McDonald’s puts its branding might behind apples.

I’m sure you think most kids will eat the fries and dump the apples; don’t be so sure.  Branding shapes taste preferences.  (I guess that’s what a $10 billion advertising campaign can buy you!)

Check this out:

Researchers in California asked a group of preschoolers to taste two sets of carrots.  One set was placed on top of a McDonald’s French fries bag.  The other set was placed on a plain white bag.  What do you think happened?

The kids preferred the McDonald’s carrots.  Identical food.  Different packaging.

The researchers took McDonald’s French fries.  They placed some in a McDonald’s bag and some in a plain bag.  The preschoolers said the McDonald’s French fries tasted better—even though the plain bag fries were also McDonald’s fries.  Identical foods. Different packaging.

The same thing happened when the researchers presented the children with Chicken McNuggets and with milk: the kids thought the branded food tasted better.  (See, kids don’t really know what they like. They know what they think they like!  Read Mind over Matter.)

If McDonald’s can do this for apples…  

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


Robinson, T. N., D. L. G. Borzekowski, D. M. Matheson, and H. C. Kraemer. 2011. “Effects of Fast Food Branding on Young Children’s Taste Preferences.” Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine 161(8): 792-97.