They're not taking cheeseburgers off the menu though.
Credit: Ramin Talaie

Nobody goes to a fast food restaurant expecting to get a healthy, well-balanced dinner. But McDonald’s is (slowly) working to make changes to encourage healthier options for their youngest customers.

McDonald’s announced in a press release Thursday morning that Happy Meals are getting a healthier upgrade. Their plan is to make changes available in 120 markets over the next four years—by 2022.

The kid-sized fast food will get a “balanced meal” improvement. This means that a minimum 50 percent of Happy Meals will have under 600 calories, with 10 percent of calories from saturated fat, 650 grams of sodium, and 10 percent of calories from added sugar.

Today only 28 percent of Happy Meals available in just 20 markets meet these criteria. To achieve these new nutritional guidelines, McDonald’s is working remove the unhealthiest Happy Meal offerings, add new choices, and reformulate current offerings. These new changes will allow for happy meals to reduce calories by 20 percent, added sugars by 50 percent, saturated fat by 13 percent and/or sodium by 17 percent.

According to the McDonald’s website, some of the current meal combinations currently available already meet some of these restrictions. A Happy Meal containing a cheeseburger, yogurt tube, chocolate milk, and kids fries comes out to 590 calories.

In addition to menu nutrition goals, McDonald’s has announced they will remove artificial flavors, added colors from artificial sources, and reduce artificial preservatives where feasible. Also, they will continue to make nutrition information available on the company’s website and mobile app. They hope to serve Happy Meals with more fruit, vegetables, low-fat dairy, whole grains, lean protein, and water.

According to the press release, entrees that include a hamburger, a four piece or six piece chicken McNugget, and a cheeseburger will be available by request only. Bottled water will be added as a featured beverage choice later this year and chocolate milk will contain less added sugar. In addition, the six piece chicken McNuggets will be served with kid-sized fries instead of small fries.

Howell Wechsler, CEO of Alliance for a Healthier Generation, the non-profit helping McDonald’s make these changes, said in the press release, "Today's announcement represents meaningful progress to impact kids' calories, saturated fat, sodium and added sugar in Happy Meal bundles as offered on menu boards - and to promote more water. This sets a high bar, and we hope other industry leaders will follow suit."

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Customers in the United States can expect to start seeing changes within the next few months. By June 2018 US customers should see 100 percent of Happy Meal combinations hitting 600 calories or less and 100 percent of those meals will follow the new criteria for added sugar and saturated fat. The new sodium criteria will be at 78 percent.