McDonald’s Happy Meals: A Healthier Option Than You Think?


I’m going to lay my cards on the table here: before I became a mum, I distinctly remember thinking, “When I have kids, you’ll never catch me taking them to McDonald’s. Why would you give them unhealthy food like that?” But as with many things about parenthood, what you think before you’re actually a parent, and what you think (and do) once you’re a parent can be totally different. If my pre-parent self was here with me today, I’d probably tilt my head in a slightly ‘ahh bless’ way and explain that being a mum is nothing like she thinks it will be. I’d also tell her that lipstick does suit her, despite what she thinks.

So why, as a mum, do I now take my six-year-old to McDonald’s on a regular basis? Many reasons:

  1. It’s an affordable treat. The six-year-old loves going out for lunch to a noodle place near us, and she also loves this new pizza place that’s opened up in our town, but they’re not cheap, and like most people, we need to watch what we spend. McDonald’s is a really affordable place to go for a treat lunch when we’re out shopping or we’ve been to the cinema.
  2. A little bit of everything does you good. We’ve all heard that saying, haven’t we? And I truly believe that if you love a burger, then having a burger every now and then is good for the soul. Obviously too many burgers and it’s not good for the waistline, but every now and then? Go for it.
  3. McDonald’s Happy Meals – which is the order of choice for my six-year-old – are much healthier than they used to be. I’ve known this for a while, because every time we go in (which is probably around once a month), we order a Happy Meal with a bottle of water (instead of a fizzy drink) and a fruit bag (which you can order – or a bag of carrot sticks – instead of fries). Did you know that less than a quarter of Happy Meals are now sold with a sugary fizzy drink, and McDonald’s has also introduced organic milk and water. There’s also less salt and saturated fat in McDonald’s food, than there used to be.
  4. The six-year-old loves the Happy Meal toys – she gets genuinely excited to see what she’s got, and it’s often linked to a kids’ film that she’s either seen or wants to see.

As well as this, I’m a big fan of McDonald’s link with children’s books. As well as 55 million story books being included in Happy Meals, you can always get a voucher which entitles you to a children’s reading or activity book in WHSmith for £1. We have a bit of a family ritual where we take the voucher straight from McDonald’s to nearby WHSmith and pick up the £1 book.

Of course, McDonald’s has its critics – quite a few people I know still aren’t keen to take their kids there, and we’ve all seen those social media posts that claim that the ingredients aren’t fresh / what they say they are, haven’t we? So I was really interested to watch this video from Barry at My Virgin Kitchen – he recently visited a potato farm which supplies spuds to McDonald’s for their fries, and a factory where they make McChicken Nuggets with 100% white chicken breast…

(I just watched his video again, with the six-year-old and, brilliantly, her main reaction was: “So they make the McChicken nuggets with fish?”)

McDonald’s sent me a giant Happy Meal box and asked me to make a video where I unbox it – want to watch and see what was inside?

So as you can see, I got a selection of things that you typically find in a McDonald’s Happy Meal…

McDonald's Happy Meal contents

McDonald's Happy Meal drinks


So, what do you think? Are you surprised about the ingredients that go into the food in a McDonald’s Happy meal and the healthier options you can choose? I’m really interested to hear what you think! If you want to find out more, why not join the #GoodToKnow Twitter Party taking place 1-2pm on 25th October where everyone will be talking about secrets to getting kids to balance treats with good food choices?

I’m working with McDonald’s and BritMums in a paid relationship, to challenge misconceptions about what’s in a Happy Meal and about the changes McDonald’s has made across its menu over the last 15 years. Find out more here

• Salt: based on Chicken McNuggets, Fries and a Fruit Shoot now and in 2003

• Saturated fat: changes to McDonald’s restaurant cooking oil between 1992 and 2010

• Books: based on annual Happy Meal book promotions since 2012

• Happy Meals: Served after 10:30am



    • Alison Perry
      November 1, 2016 / 9:24 am

      Wouldn’t it? With a MASSIVE pickle of course!!

  1. October 24, 2016 / 6:17 pm

    I love that they are adjusting their menu’s to create healthier options for children. Like you, i didn’t ever want to take my children to macdonalds as i always felt their was a stigma that came along with giving your child a macdonalds. I have seen a few people blogging about this now and i am so glad that you are getting the word out. I love a macdonalds every now and again and the experience of going, getting the happy meal and getting the surprise toy is something the girls love. I am happy to take them more often now 🙂

    • Alison Perry
      November 1, 2016 / 9:24 am

      That’s really interesting to hear Keri-Anne – we have both been through the same thought process.

  2. October 24, 2016 / 10:04 pm

    This is really interesting – I’d never in a million years have put Maccy D’s down as a healthy option, so it’s great to see they’re working on that and challenging the misconception. We go to MacDonalds probably 2-3 times a year, as a treat or when we’re travelling somewhere. I must admit, I’m very partial to a Big Mac!

    • Alison Perry
      November 1, 2016 / 9:27 am

      We sometimes have them when travelling too – it feels like a bit of a treat, doesn’t it? 🙂

  3. October 25, 2016 / 8:44 am

    It’s definitely all about balance, isn’t it? I’ve never taken my children there but good to know there’s options to make it healthier if the occasion ever arises (which I’m sure is inevitable) x

    • Alison Perry
      November 1, 2016 / 9:26 am

      Yeah, once the kids hear others talking about how much they love McDonald’s, they’ll probably ask to go. And birthday parties might happen there too – I took G and her friend there after school for a birthday treat on G’s birthday recently.

  4. October 25, 2016 / 12:42 pm

    I love this Alison, your video is great! I love the changes they’ve made, my girls are big fruit and veg fans. x

    • Alison Perry
      November 1, 2016 / 9:28 am

      See, I often have to coax my 6 yr old into eating veg, so the carrot sticks with chicken nuggets is a perfect combo – we often ask her to take one bite of each in turn! 😉

  5. October 27, 2016 / 7:16 am

    As you say a little bit of what you fancy is good and I really have no problem with McDonalds. I know my kids will eat it and it’s affordable. I’m really pleased that they’ve reduced the sugar & salt, but I am uncomfortable with them pushing the healthy angle. For a start if we went for a McDonalds, my kids would be horrified if they got apple and carrot instead of fries! It’s not healthy and I am totally fine with that, because it’s not an every day or even an every week thing.

    • Alison Perry
      November 1, 2016 / 9:30 am

      I think my point here is that it’s heathIER than many people think- obviously McDonald’s is fast food, and if we ate it all the time, it wouldn’t be good. But as an every now and then treat, it’s so good that they are reducing salt and fat content and offering healthier alternatives with the Happy Meals.

  6. November 3, 2016 / 6:07 pm

    It’s so good to hear they are making steps to be as healthy as possible while still being a fast food chain and having options is really good. On the odd occasion we have going into McDonalds we have always made sure to order the fruit bags and water. Loving the massive happy meal box by the way 🙂

    Laura x

  7. Claire Moore
    November 4, 2016 / 8:32 pm

    I’m a bit of a fan of Mc Donald’s for the reasons you outline. I do let my son have chips but we always get a fruit bag and milk for a drink.

    When he is off his food (between growth spurts) it is a guaranteed eat. Although sometimes he takes so long to eat it. Thank heavens for free wifi.

    Strongly suspect many of the Happy Meals sold with fizzy drinks are to parents like me having one too (double toys!)

    I do think McDonalds have a good grip on their food chain and it was notable that they were not caught up in the horse meat scandal a few years back.

  8. November 10, 2016 / 8:53 pm

    Once in a while i dont think it does any harm, you can pay a lot more in other places and get worse food.
    WhSmith books are also a added bonus for £1.00 🙂

  9. November 24, 2016 / 3:41 pm

    I think it’s great that they are adjusting their menu to make them a little healthier. My oldest daughter won’t touch fruit or veg and my youngest 13 months will eat anything so at least when we go she can have something slightly healthier than her sister. But I am fine with them having a McDonalds once in a while ( we normally stick to one a month) . xx

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