I remember an ecology assignment in school where the professor asked us to respond to a new housing development proposal in a dry, desert-area. I worked and worked on it and came up with all sorts of eco-solutions such as solar panels, green building materials, water re-use, and more. The professor gave me a failing grade on the assignment as the answer he was looking for was to not build in a desert.
I’m reminded of this experience when looking at McDonald’s New Happy Meal. Maybe McDonald’s isn’t the healthiest place to eat but people are going to eat at McDonald’s just like they are going to build homes in desert-like areas. Once again, I find myself looking for solutions knowing that a “just don’t do it” stance is not going to work.
So, if you are there, what should you eat? And, for kids, is the New Happy Meal any more nutritionally happy than the last one? According to McDonald’s, the New Happy Meals have about 20% fewer calories than before. They now have sliced apples for dessert, a smaller serving of fries, and low-fat milk instead of a sugary soda.
At Fantasy Healthball, we often talk about moderation (minimize the times that you are not eating healthy foods) and portion sizes (keep portions at a reasonable size, especially when the food is not the healthiest). In this article by Linda Carroll, she quotes registered dietician Elisa Zied saying, “The trick is to achieve a balance through the rest of the meals your kids are eating and to monitor portion sizes. If you are going to hit a McDonald’s, for example, have your kid get the smallest burger and maybe even a small fries. Pizza is fine, too, if your kid is limited to a slice or two and then fills up with salad or fruit or something equally healthy.”
What’s moderation? Sue James, who advises the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens on health and nutrition issues, throws the yellow penalty flag if you go for unhealthy foods more than once or twice a month. You get the penalty (“Un-Healthy-like Conduct?” “Roughing the Arteries?”) if you reach too many times for such foods as french fries, candy bars, potato chips, sodas, and more.
We like the idea of filling up on the healthier menu items even if you also have smaller portions of the other stuff. McDonald’s does a REALLY good job making nutrition information available on their website and it is easy to find the healthier choices. Here is a list so you can check your favorites with healthier alternatives. If you need help knowing what nutrients to look for, check out our ”nutrients made easy.” Here are some of the menu items with less than 200 calories: 4-piece chicken mcnuggets (190 cal), premium cesar salad with grilled chicken (190 cal), premium bacon ranch salad without chicken (140 cal), fruit ’n yogurt parfait (160 cal), kid’s fries (100 cal). Contrast these with the angus chipotle bbq bacon sandwich (800 cal), big breakfast with hotcakes (1,090 cal), chocolate shake (880 cal), double quarter pounder with cheese (740 cal).
So choose smart when you find yourself under the golden arches. The New Happy Meal is now a little happier than before – and you and your kids can be too. – Jim Ballard (the book)
PS – Check out our healthy french fries recipe!