Fast Food Kids’ Meal Changes Improves Nutrition

Healthy Happy Meals

The children’s calorie intake at a fast food restaurant kids’ meal has always been a matter of concern for parents, doctors, and children’s health advocates. This has been an uphill battle, though, because indulging in high-calorie fast foods is so deeply ingrained in the young generation and the kids’ meals offered at a typical fast food restaurant. Fortunately, researchers at Cornell University may just have found a way to make a dent in this concern.

Researchers Dr. Brian Wansink and Dr. Andrew Hanks of Cornell University had a research question asking whether a reduction in the calorie-content of a kids’ meal at a fast food restaurant is feasible. Around 104 calories was removed from a typical McDonald’s kids’ meal just by serving a smaller packet size of the side offering of French fries. The reduced fries resulted to almost 95% of the total reduction in calories. Another question that the researchers wanted to resolve was whether the children will make up for the lost calories by ordering higher-calorie entrée and beverages.

The Cornell researchers evaluated transactions made at 30 McDonald’s restaurants. A McDonald’s kids’ meal used to contain an entrée with 3 options, a side offering of either apple or fries, and a beverage with 4 options to choose from. The calorie-reduction strategy was done by substituting smaller packets of French fries. The total calories in the kids’ meal decreased significantly.

The result of the study shows that 99% of the children did not opt for a more caloric entrée, but ordered their usual option. Almost 2/3 (62%) of all orders included the lowest-calorie option, the chicken nuggets. To answer the first question, yes, the concept of slightly changing the children’s favorite fast food kids’ meal does show feasibility and significant decrease in calorie intake.

On the second question, the study shows that 11% less of the children opted for the high-calorie soda while 22% more opted for the low-calorie fat-free white or chocolate milk with their kids’ meals at a fast food restaurant. Substitution in beverage became healthier with 6 calories less. This decreased further the total calorie content of the toned-down kids’ meal.

The study reveals that even the children’s preferred fast food restaurant meals can be made relatively healthier with slight variations and substitutions. Since the meal still represents a symbol of indulgence, children’s reaction to the substitution is considerably favorable. This study was applied to a world-renowned fast food restaurant chain but its results show that it can also be applied by parents in their kitchens and homes.