McDonald's drops cheeseburgers and shrinks fries in new Happy Meals

McDonald's cheeseburger

McDonald's cheeseburger

At least 50% of Happy Meals listed on menus worldwide will have caps of 600 calories by the end of 2022.

Diners can still ask specifically for cheeseburgers or chocolate milk with the kid's meal, but the fast-food company said that not listing them will reduce how often they're ordered.

There will be other tweaks: the six-piece chicken nugget Happy Meal will now come with a kids-sized fries instead of a small, lowering calories and sodium from the fries by half.

The amount of french fries will also be reduced one of the Chicken McNugget meals, and bottled water will be added as a drink option.

McDonald's said that it will also simplify Happy Meal ingredients by removing artificial flavors, added colors from artificial sources, and reducing artificial preservatives where feasible.

McDonald's regulars will see changes to the Happy Meal menu as early as June 2018, when 100 percent of the meal combinations offered on Happy Meal menu boards in the US will be 600 calories or fewer, and 100 percent of those meal combinations will be compliant with the new nutrition criteria for added sugar, saturated fat, and 78 percent compliant with the new sodium criteria, the company announced on February 14.

The Happy Meal has always been a target of health advocates and parents who link it to childhood obesity.

Kenneth Wong, marketing professor at the Smith's School of Business at Queen's University, said it's not a coincidence that McDonald's is sprucing up the Happy Meal image now.

And "McDonald's Australia is 'currently exploring new vegetable and lean protein options and McDonald's France is looking at new vegetable offerings, ' the company said in a statement", reports NPR's Allison Aubrey. In addition to offering healthier meal combinations, McDonald's commitment to promoting water and advertising healthier side items in kids' meals will further the momentum in consumer demand for healthier foods and beverages. Right now, 28 percent of Happy Meals in 20 markets meet those criteria.

This isn't the first time McDonald's has made moves to make Happy Meals healthier. Since 2001, the company and its franchisees have distributed more than 370 million books in Happy Meals. "Our efforts have led to big changes and real progress and as part of our continued food journey, we're committed to making it easier for families to choose balanced options that will make measurable differences".