‘Sad Meals’: This Unexpected McDonald’s Menu Change Might Not Be About Health At All

First, they took away your supersize fries. Then, they took the “cheese” out of your cheeseburgers. The first McDonald’s menu change of 2018 involved revamping the go-to meal of your childhood — but the chain claims it’s doing it for all the right reasons. Is there more on executives’ minds than just your calorie intake?

McDonald’s is one of the most popular — and most profitable — fast food chains in America

McDonald's exterior.
McDonald’s is one of the most profitable fast food chains in the U.S.| Tofumax/iStock/Getty Images

McDonald’s consistently ranks near the top among America’s favorite and most profitable fast food chains. Its ever-expanding collection of menu items, both for adults and their kids, gives most consumers what they really want: familiar, convenient, and affordable food.
Next: McDonald’s might be more dependent on kids’ meals than it’s willing to admit.

If it weren’t for Happy Meals, McDonald’s might not exist

McDonalds Happy Meal
Kids still love Happy Meals, though their parents might not. | Urbanbuzz/iStock/Getty Images

The popularity of Happy Meals has fluctuated over the past decade, especially since the company’s increased efforts to meet health-conscious consumers in the middle. Some data suggest, however, that McDonald’s might depend on its younger customer base to keep itself in good financial shape┬áin the ever-changing food retail landscape.
Next: The fast-food chain really turned its focus on health in 2018.

They pledged to make Happy Meals happier — health-wise

McDonald's yellow and red drive-thru logo
The chain has promised to improve the nutritional quality of Happy Meals. | TonyBaggett/iStock/Getty Images

Partnering with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, McDonald’s publicly committed to improving the nutritional quality of their Happy Meals by 2022.
The company promised to offer “more balanced” meals, creating Global Happy Meal Nutrition Criteria that at least 50% of all meals must follow. Some of these criteria include meals that:

  • add up to equal or less than 600 calories
  • contain 10% or less of calories from saturated fat
  • add up to less than 650 milligrams of sodium, and
  • contain only 10% of calories from added sugars.

They’ve already found one way to accomplish these goals — and it involves changing one key menu item forever.
Next: Customers aren’t quite sure how they feel about this major menu change.

Happy Meals no longer include cheeseburgers

McDonalds Big Mac
Cheeseburgers are no longer on the Happy Meal menu. | Spflaum1/iStock/Getty Images

In February 2018, McDonald’s announced it would soon stop offering cheeseburgers as the default option in Happy Meals. This move was part of the restaurant chain’s early efforts to reduce the calorie count of these meals to under 600.
McDonald’s also temporarily stopped serving chocolate milk in an attempt to create a new, healthier recipe their young customers would still enjoy.
Next: Is it really about nutrition … or something deeper?

McDonald’s claims it’s all about nutrition … but is it?

Mc Donalds French Fries
Making food healthier might be necessary if McDonald’s wants to stay in business. | Junce/iStock/Getty Images

First, McDonald’s removed the “supersize” option from all menu items. Then it quit offering soda as a drink option with all Happy Meals. The chain added healthier side options and reduced fry sizes, and has now declared cheese an enemy worth eliminating.
The more health-conscious fast-food customers become, the more restaurant chains depend on improving the nutritional value of their menus — that is, if they want to stay in business.
Next: This might prove McDonald’s true motive.

Did McDonald’s switch to ‘fresh’ beef to compete with Wendy’s?

storefront at Wendy's with an American flag blowing in the wind
Rival Wendy’s has called out McDonald’s for its food preparation practices. |Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Cheese-free burgers weren’t the only health-conscious announcement McDonald’s made in early 2018. The chain also told customers it would start serving Quarter Pounders made with fresh (never frozen?) beef. Was this an effort to sidestep their most passive-aggressive competitor?
McDonald’s figurative beef with Wendy’s didn’t start with the less popular chain’s ad campaigns calling it out for its food preparation practices, but it probably didn’t help much.
Next: This might be the real reason businesses say they care about your health.

Better health will always mean better business

McDonald's Salad
Healthy fast food might be the way of the future. | Stephen Chernin/Getty Images

If businesses are smart about introducing healthier food into their menus, some sources say it’s worth the effort. Healthy kids’ meals are fast food’s latest trend, easing parents’ worries about feeding their children convenience foods without significantly increasing prices.
Next: Do “health savvy” restaurants really make more money?

Will McDonald’s benefit from these changes?


McDonald's drive thru service
Will the change really help McDonald’s? | Yaoinlove/iStock/Getty Images

It’s still largely up for debate whether or not healthier menu items are necessarily more profitable for big chains like McDonald’s. Often, even though customers claim they want healthier options, they don’t always opt for them.
However, making these kinds of subtle changes — not giving customers as much of an option — probably won’t hurt the decades-old franchise in the long-term.
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