McDonald’s is getting rid of the cheeseburger Happy Meal.
The Oak Brook, Ill.-based burger giant will no longer list the cheeseburger as an option with its Happy Meals in the U.S., as part of a broad, global effort to reduce the meals’ calories while improving their nutritional content.
Customers will still be able to get a cheeseburger Happy Meal upon request. Yet the company said Thursday that all of the Happy Meals listed on its U.S. menu boards will have 600 calories or fewer by June of this year.
In addition, all of the meal combinations will be compliant with new nutrition criteria for added sugar and saturated fat, and they will be “78% compliant” with new sodium criteria.
In addition to no longer listing cheeseburgers, the company will replace the small french fries with kid-sized fries in the six-piece Chicken McNugget meal, which decreases the calories and sodium in the fries serving by half.
The company is reformulating its chocolate milk to reduce the amount of added sugar. Chocolate milk will no longer be listed on its Happy Meal menu while it makes the change. The company will also add bottled water as a beverage choice, and in December, the company replaced its apple juice with Honest Kids Appley Ever After organic juice.
McDonald’s says the changes are the biggest it has made to its Happy Meals in the U.S. since 2013, when it removed soda from the Happy Meal menu board, which led to a 14-percentage point increase in the number of meals that included water, milk or juice.
The result: The number of Happy Meals ordered with soda decreased from 62% to 48%. More than half of Happy Meals are now ordered with water, milk or juice.
The changes in the U.S. are part of McDonald's effort to improve its Happy Meals worldwide to offer more balanced, nutritious kids meals. The company has been working with the nonprofit Alliance for a Healthier Generation to develop a plan in 20 major markets to increase customers’ access to fruit, vegetables, low-fat dairy and water.
“We recognize the opportunity that we have to support families as one of the most visited restaurants in the world, and remain committed to elevating our food, celebrating the joy of reading and helping those in need through Ronald McDonald House Charities,” McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook said in a statement. “Given our scale and reach, we hope these actions will bring more choices to consumers and uniquely benefit millions of families, which are important steps as we build a better McDonald’s.”
Happy Meals are important to McDonald’s, the largest restaurant chain in the U.S. by systemwide sales, with $37.5 billion, according to Technomic's Top 500 Advance Chain Restaurant Report. It has more than 14,000 locations in the U.S.
The company has long targeted families, with the Happy Meal central to that effort. The chain sells about $10 million in Happy Meals a day, according to the data firm Sense360.
It has been working to make those meals more nutritious in recent years in a bid to improve its image among consumers increasingly cognizant of the food they eat. In 2016 the chain removed artificial flavors and colors from its Chicken McNuggets, for instance.
By 2022, the company said it would offer more balanced Happy Meals around the world, with at least 50% of its listed Happy Meals having fewer than 600 calories, 650 milligrams of sodium and 10% of calories from added sugar or added sodium. Currently, 28% of Happy Meals in 20 major markets fit those new criteria. The 20 markets represent nearly 85% of McDonald’s global sales.
The company also vowed to simplify its ingredients, be more transparent, market responsibly by only advertising meals that meet nutrition criteria and leverage its marketing to increase the purchase of food and beverages that contain the recommended food groups.
“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,” Dr. Howell Wechsler, CEO of Alliance for a Healthier Generation, said in a statement. “This sets a high bar, and we hope other industry leaders will follow suit.”