Not that long ago, the words healthy and McDonald’s were unheard of in the same sentence. McDonald’s was your ‘go-to’ source for a last-minute dinner, your after bar food and even your hangover cure. Over the last decade, the yellow arches stepped up and joined the movement of creating a healthier menu for those who still want to indulge but want to feel less guilty about it. So let’s check out 10 ways McDonald’s became more healthy.
10. Healthier options
You don’t need to get the large fries, Coke, big Mac and McNuggets (but if you do, we won’t judge), you can opt for a salad, apple slices or even a wrap. McDonald’s was put on the map for their juicy, overloaded burgers, Big Mac sauce and supersized salty fries. But over the years, the hype hasn’t been as noticeable. More and more customers are opting to choose healthier options. Many are asking for burgers to be wrapped in lettuce instead of in a bun, asking for water instead a carbonated sugary soda, or even just asking for the small fries over the larger sized one. Their vast menu options are now overloaded and directed to the newest trends, accommodating different lifestyles and still trying to not lose what made them McDonald’s in the first place. It’s obvious that they have been listening over the years and have been trying to adapt. People want to know what’s in the food they’re buying, they want other options and more ‘real’ food choices and natural ingredients. We can all think back to our childhoods sitting in the backseat of the car hoping our parents would make that special trip to McDonald’s. And when it did happen, the last thing on our minds was how healthy our Mickey D’s order was going to be. Bring on the cheese burgers, bring on the fries, bring on the milkshake. But now, as adults with actual responsibilities, times have changed. We go for coffee, and maybe the salads or the wraps, trying to convince ourselves that this is the healthy and right thing to do – and McDonald’s accommodates us with these options. Although they are also there when we give in and really just want that cheeseburger.
Salads were introduced to McDonald’s over 20 years ago. At first, they were an epic fail. Do you remember the dreadful shaker salads? They came in a plastic cup – the same sort of cup that the Frappuccinos from Starbucks come in – and the idea was that you just add the salad dressing, shake it up and voila, instant mixed salad for you to eat. These didn’t last too long before they were discontinued and actual salads in a regular container were introduced. The shaker concept seemed like a good one but the whole idea just didn’t take off. When the signature salads came out, they were an instant hit. Perhaps it was a matter of timing. Maybe the world just wasn’t ready for the salad shakers when released. But then a few years later, the public was more on board with a healthier lifestyle than ever before. The flavors added to the signature salad line have obviously been a hit because they still exist on their menu to this day. If you’ve never tried any of the salads, maybe now’s the time to give them a try. They have four different kinds that can be ordered with either grilled chicken (for the healthier people out there) or crispy chicken (mmmmmm crispy) and also a couple of side salads to pair up with that burger. Careful though, just because you order a salad doesn’t mean it has fewer calories, that dressing adds up. Just be sure you know what’s in it before committing. All nutritional information is available on the McDonald’s website or at the restaurant.
8. Obvious nutritional value
There was a time when fast food restaurants made it quite difficult for the average consumer to find out the nutritional information on the food being served. Well times have changed and the public has spoken. It is now easier than ever to get the info you need when it comes to what you’re eating. The fast food restaurant industry has been changed forever. Perhaps the industry assumed that if we saw the calories associated with each menu item that customers would make better choices and not eat at that restaurant. And while having this information will affect some people’s choices, for others a Big Mac is going to be ordered no matter what. By displaying the calories of each menu item, customers got a wake-up call and perhaps it created more awareness of what we’re putting into our bodies when placing our order. Displaying calorie and nutritional info provided some clarity on which restaurants had the ‘healthier’ options and gave restaurants the opportunity to capitalize by broadening the menu and adding new healthy selections. You might be spending more time contemplating your next order, but at least you’ll know what you’re in for. If you are trying to be more aware of other macros as well, be sure to look up the full list of nutritional facts and compare them. Make a game out of it with your friends by guessing who has the higher value meal.
7. Changes to Happy Meals
If you have kids, were a kid, have babysat someone else’s kids or are a toy collector, then you know how good the McDonald’s happy meals are. Kids love ‘em and some adults even order the happy meal as a healthier alternative because the portion sizes are smaller. But since McDonald’s hopped on the healthy (-ish) bandwagon, they changed how they deliver these meals for kids. Soda was just assumed to come with the meal, you’d get a little tiny cup, fill it with orange soda or root beer and off you’d go with big smile on your face. Now the soda option is no longer assumed, you can get milk or juice now. The sides are also different, you have to ask for them but they are there for you. You can get apple slices and yogurt instead of fries and now the chicken nuggets are made without any artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. McDonald’s doesn’t have to be feared anymore, they are trying to cover all of the options to satisfy everyone. Kids love going to the Big M and parents love taking them (most of the time). It’s an experience for everyone and now you can go in knowing you’re making at least one healthier choice today. Offering a more balanced meal will leave you feeling better as a parent and will leave your children feeling more nourished in the long run. It’s a win-win. Oh and one thing that has not changed – as always the Happy Meal still comes with a toy.
6. Different oil
Years ago, the term ‘trans-fat’ was one of the biggest buzzwords when it came to nutrition. ‘You need to avoid it’ was the line that was enforced by everyone who obviously knew more than we did about our daily food intake. Trans Fat causes heart disease and allows bad cholesterol to enter the body. McDonald’s made a wise choice in 2008 when they switched the type of oil being used in their restaurants to vegetable oil. It’s these small changes that end up making a huge difference in the long run. Of course, you still have to be mindful of what you order, as this change won’t be the game changer when it comes to your overall health. If you didn’t even know this change had happened, it’s probably because McDonald’s chose not to advertise it. Most food establishments opt for trans oil due to its lower cost. So, thank you McDonald’s for recognizing the importance of keeping their customer’s healthier and alive instead of saving a few bucks. Simplifying ingredients, and removing the artificial flavoring and colors are also better for the overall taste, which will keep everyone coming back for more. Well done Ronald!
5. Fresh beef
McDonald’s has been serving frozen beef in all of its burgers but recently this all changed when it came to the Quarter Pounder. This change was a game changer for the perception of the brand. Deciding to go fresh and not frozen for the beef patty used in the McDonald’s Quarter Pounder is starting to pay off. The new fresh beef Quarter Pounder can now be found in most US restaurants. This change seems to be directed at giving the customer a fresher product and is probably an indirect nod to Wendy’s who have been serving fresh not-frozen burgers from the start. Can customers notice a difference? It’s hard to really be sure. Whether fresh or frozen, customers still seem to love the taste. McDonald’s has spent decades building a strong, loyal fan base and every day, they either gain or lose customers due to personal preferences, trends, and lifestyle changes. Changing from frozen to fresh beef used in the Quarter Pounder is obviously McDonald’s taking baby steps into the future. So how fresh is fresh? Take a cruise to your nearest McDonald’s, order up a juicy Quarter Pounder and do a taste test. On another note, with one eye on current food trends and the other looking to the future, Mickey D’s plans to only use cage-free eggs by 2025. Another little something to look forward to.
4. Communicate with Transparency
In the past, there were always numerous questions and concerns when it came to the products, ingredients and how the restaurant functioned. McDonald’s recognized this and built a platform for its customers to ask any questions and McDonald’s would respond to set the record straight. They created and then updated their website so now anyone from anywhere can ask those burning questions they might have. For example, if you wanted to know: “Does McDonald’s beef come from a particular type of cow? If so, what breed of cow?” Or if you love and miss the McRib, you can ask if and when it’s coming back. Although that’s a secret they usually keep close to the vest. What’s really great about this form of communication is that it shows McDonald’s is listening to the changing needs of the fast food buying public and that they actually care. Anyone can post a question, no matter how simple it may sound and someone over at McDonald’s will take a break from salting the fries and answer you.
3. Super-size nothing
2004 was the year that going big really meant going home. McDonald’s made the hard decision to stop supersizing its meals. From beverages to fries, the end of an era was upon us. Back in the day, when you went to Mickey D’s, there was a very high chance that you’d be supersizing your meal and probably either throwing away half of the drink or half of the fries because it was just way too much to handle. That is exactly one of the reasons why they got rid of it. Who needs all of that food? No one. Well, with the option available many people did. It seemed like a good idea to super-size that meal for small extra cost. What a deal! Today, portioning is a crucial part of our nutritional plan and sometimes our eyes are bigger than our bellies. So McDonald’s cut back and we get to hold back. You can always order more apple slices if you’re still hungry.
2. Ditch the preservatives
Back in the day, it would not be unusual for teenagers to hit up McDonald’s a couple of times a week with friends to grab a quick bite and hang out. It was cheap and satisfied those after school hunger pangs. Snacking on burgers and fries, although satisfying, is probably not the best alternative. Not only is the habit of eating greasy food not good for you, but what was in the food was not actually as fulfilling. The fast food of the day was loaded with preservatives and artificial color and flavor. This negative perception led McDonald’s to start delivering a better quality product with a vision of moving forward in step with the healthier lifestyle of its customers. It changed the game when McDonald’s started to eliminate preservatives and using natural flavors and colors for some of their products. We don’t even want to know what was used before but it might explain that ‘freshman 15’ that everyone talks about. It’s 2020 and we want answers, we want to know what’s in our food. Sure, 20 years ago – we cared less but times have changed and our need to get on the heathy bandwagon is more encouraged than ever. McDonald’s has been trying to hop on board and cater to what we want, or at least what they think we want.
1. Free the chicken
The most recognized switch that McDonald’s has promoted is the change to the chicken McNuggets. Those delicious chicken nuggets that kids and adults love so much are now free of antibiotics and fake ingredients. Previously, the chicken was prepared in a way that there was…well, less chicken and more questionable ingredients. The McNuggets were a combination of both white and dark meat mixed together. McD’s now uses only chicken breasts which give the nuggets more of a natural taste with fewer seasonings to add. We’re not suggesting that these are the healthiest item on the menu (they aren’t) but at least you’re getting 100% chicken and not 58% chicken or something like that, along with a bunch of other ingredients that you can’t pronounce. The meat they now use is a higher quality, which comes from broiler chickens. Since they condensed the ingredients and increased their standards, you can now enjoy these little nuggets knowing they contain no artificial preservatives and still taste delicious.