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Happy Meal change: Apple slices in every Happy Meal

Happy Meal change: McDonald's on Tuesday said that it would add apple slices and reduce the portion of French fries in its children's meal boxes this fall, effectively taking away consumers' current choice between either having apples with caramel dip or fries as a Happy Meal side.

By Christina RexrodeAssociated Press / July 26, 2011

A McDonald's Cheeseburger Happy Meal with the new apple slices option is shown on Tuesday, July 26, in Pittsburgh. McDonald's Corp. says it is adding apple slices to every Happy Meal, part of the chain's larger push to paint itself as a healthy place to eat.

Keith Srakocic/AP

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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.

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McDonald's on Tuesday said that it would add apple slices and reduce the portion of French fries in its children's meal boxes this fall, effectively taking away consumers' current choice between either having apples with caramel dip or fries as a Happy Meal side. McDonald's also said it is offering a new mobile app focused on the nutrition of its fare, and is reducing sugars, saturated fats and calories in its main menu items.

The moves by McDonald's Corp., which has become a leader among its peers in offering nutritious choices 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 the 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.

"McDonald's is taking steps in the right direction, but we should be careful in heaping praise on corporations for simply reducing the scope of the problem they continue to create," said Kelle Louaillier, executive director of a group called Corporate Accountability International.

Cindy Goody, McDonald's senior director of nutrition, said the new directives are "absolutely not" related to new regulations, but rather a response to the fact that customers want healthier choices but weren't picking them. Indeed, only about 11 percent of customers were ordering apples with their Happy Meals, even though 88 percent were aware of they had the option of having fries or apples, the restaurant said.

McDonald's says the change will reduce calories in its "most popular" Happy Meals by as much as 20 percent. Currently, the lightest Happy Meal is the four-piece chicken nugget served with apples and apple juice. It has 380 calories and 12 grams of fat. The Happy Meal with the most fat and calories is a cheeseburger served with fries and 1 percent chocolate milk. It weighs in at 700 calories and 27 grams of fat.

"McDonald's agrees with leading food and nutrition experts that making incremental lifestyle modifications with food consumption may lead to improvements in an individual's well-being," Goody said, adding that McDonald's didn't eliminate fries from Happy Meals because "all foods fit when consumed in moderation."

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