Moving to silence childhood nutrition critics, McDonald's has revamped its popular Happy Meal to automatically include an order of apple slices and a downsized order of fries. The changes start hitting stores in September.
It's part of the fast-food giant's expanded commitment to grappling with childhood obesity by reducing sodium, saturated fat and portion sizes over the next four years and inserting healthy eating messages in all of its ads directed at children in 2012.
The new Happy Meal, which will still come with a toy, gives parents options of drinks, burgers or Chicken McNuggets, but the standard fries order has been shrunk more than in half to 100 calories, with five apple slices on the side.
"The apples are peeled because research says that's better for tiny hands and tiny tummies," said Cynthia Goody, the chain's senior nutritionist.
McDonald's also has tested raisins, carrots and pineapple as balanced meal options. The changes cut the Happy Meal calorie count 20 percent to less than 600. There's no sugar added or caramel dipping sauce for the apples unless the parent chooses. McDonald's has offered apples as a Happy Meal alternative since 2004, but only 11 percent of buyers picked them.
Michelle Obama, who is heading a nationwide effort to battle childhood obesity, said McDonald's decision to add apples to its Happy Meals is a positive step. The first lady recently joined major retailers, including Wal-Mart, to announce plans to open or expand more than 1,500 stores over the next five years in areas without easy access to fresh produce.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.