A "Happy Meal" is a form of kids' meal sold at the fast-food chain McDonald's since June 1979. A toy is included with the food, both of which are usually contained in a box or paper bag with the McDonald's logo. The packaging and toy are frequently part of a marketing tie-in to an existing television show, film, or toy brand.
The Happy Meal contains a main item (typically a hamburger, cheeseburger, or small serving of Chicken McNuggets), a side item (french fries, apple slices, or a salad in some areas), and a drink (milk, juice, or a soft drink). The choice of items changes from country to country, and may depend on the size of the restaurant.
In some countries, the choices have been expanded to include items such as a grilled cheese sandwich (known as a "Fry Kid"), or more healthy options such as apple slices, a mini snack wrap, salads, or pasta, as one or more of the options.
In most countries, McDonald's has introduced a "healthy option" to the Happy Meal. Children have always been able to choose milk with their Happy Meal and the chain added fruit juice drink instead of a soft drink, and bags of dried fruit (or a whole piece of fruit such as an apple or carrot sticks) in place of fries.
- The Mighty Kids Meal is a meal from McDonald's designed for preteens, who are older than those who might eat a Happy Meal, but still not hungry enough to eat from the full menu. The concept is similar to the Happy Meal, in that it provides a burger or Chicken McNuggets, french fries, apple slices, a drink and a toy. The difference is that the Mighty Kid's Meal provides more food than what is typically found in a Happy Meal, providing a McDouble (a cheeseburger consisting of two patties and one slice of cheese) instead of a cheeseburger or a hamburger, and more Chicken McNuggets (6 versus 4), plus a larger drink (16oz vs 12oz). McDonald's began offering the Mighty Kids Meal on March 30, 2001, as a response to Burger King's Big Kids Meal, which had debuted in 1998. Its advertising campaign involved kids being put in infantile situations, to represent that the regular Happy Meal was for younger kids. In the UK it was called the Happy Meal Extra.
- The Go Active! Meal was a promotion for adults introduced in 2004, and lasted from May 11 to June 7. The Go Active! Meal featured a Dasani water bottle, a salad, a pedometer instead of a toy, and an exercise booklet.
In some regions different names are used. In French Canada, it is called "Joyeux Festin" (literally meaning Happy Feast in Canadian French). In Latin America and Puerto Rico (not so in Spain) it is known as Cajita Feliz (Happy little box in Latin Spanish). In Brazil it is known as McLanche Feliz (Happy McSnack in Brazilian Portuguese).
In Japan, it was called Okosama Lunch from 1987 to 1988, then Okosama Set from 1988 to 1995 (Okosama is a polite word for "child"), before being renamed to Happy Set. In Germany, it was known as Juniortüte (Bag for Juniors in German) until 1999.
In the mid-1970s, Yolanda Fernández de Cofiño began working with her husband operating McDonald's restaurants in Guatemala. She created what she called the "Menu Ronald" (Ronald menu), which offered a hamburger, small fries and a small sundae to help mothers feed their children more effectively while at McDonald's restaurants. The concept was eventually brought to the attention of McDonald's management in Chicago. The company gave the development of the product to Bob Bernstein, founder and CEO of Bernstein-Rein, an agency that has counted McDonald's as a key client since 1967. Bernstein came up with the Happy Meal.
In 1977, the McDonald's restaurant owner clients who regularly met with Bernstein were looking for ways to create a better experience for families with kids. Bernstein reasoned that if kids could get a packaged meal all their own instead of just picking at their parent's food, everybody would be happier. He had often noticed his young son at the breakfast table poring over the various items on cereal boxes and thought, "Why not do that for McDonald's? The package is the key!" He then called in his creative team and had them mock up some paperboard boxes fashioned to resemble lunch pails with the McDonald's Golden Arches for handles. They called in nationally known children's illustrators and offered them the blank slate of filling the box's sides and tops with their own colorful ideas from art to jokes to games to comic strips to stories to fantasy: whatever they thought might appeal to kids, at least 8 items per box. Inside the box would be a burger, small fries, packet of cookies and a surprise gift. A small drink would accompany these items. Bernstein named it The Happy Meal and it was successfully introduced with television and radio spots and in-store posters in the Kansas City market in October 1977. Other markets followed and the national roll-out happened in 1979.
Bernstein received Trademark #1136758 (Serial #73148046) for his idea in 1977 which he assigned to his valued client, McDonald's Corporation, on June 10, 1980. In 1987 at the annual McDonald's marketing meeting, he was recognized for his accomplishment with a full-size bronze replica of the Happy Meal box with the following inscription:
McDonald's Happy Meal 10th Anniversary 1977-1987
To Robert A. Bernstein, Bernstein-Rein Advertising
Thank you for bringing the Happy Meal, a bold idea, to the McDonald's System.
Your insight and conviction truly has made McDonald's a fun place for children for the past 10 years!
Often, the Happy Meal is themed to promote a current family-oriented movie. The first such promotion was the Star Trek Meal, to promote Star Trek: The Motion Picture in December 1979. The packaging used for the Star Trek Meal consisted of various images and games related to the film, as well as a comic strip adaptation of the film. Consumers had to buy numerous meals in order to complete the set. In 1992, McDonald's withdrew their range of Happy Meal toys for the film Batman Returns, after complaints from parents that the film was unsuitable for children.
In July 2011, McDonald's announced plans to make Happy Meals healthier, including the addition of apples. The redesigned meals will contain a smaller portion (1.1 ounces) of fries, along with the apples. On February 4, 2013, McDonald's announced that Fish McBites, fried Alaskan pollock, the same fish used in Filet-O-Fish, would be added as an entree, which would run until March, intended to coincide with Lent.
In 2014, McDonald's added a mascot to Happy Meals in the United States, known as Happy. Happy was originated from France in 2009. Reactions were mixed, with criticism that the mascot's design was too frightening.
Happy Meal toy
The Happy Meal did not introduce the practice of providing small toys to children. When the Happy Meal started in 1979, the toys back then were a McDoodle stencil, a McWrist wallet, an ID bracelet, a puzzle lock, a spinning top, or a McDonaldland character-shaped eraser. In Canada, the promotion prior to the Happy Meal was called the "Treat of the Week", where a different toy was available free on request each week. This promotion continued after the Happy Meal was introduced in 1979. Happy Meal toys have become increasingly elaborate in recent years. While initially they were little more than a cheap plastic trinket such as a Frisbee or ball, they have gradually been replaced with increasingly sophisticated toys, many of which are a tie-in to an existing TV show, film, or toy line.
On November 2, 2010, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a law requiring that children's meals sold in restaurants must meet certain nutritional standards before they could be sold with toys, to reduce triggering of childhood obesity. The law, urged in part by an increase of childhood obesity in the United States, would allow toys to be included with children's meals that have less than 600 calories and less than 640 milligrams of sodium, contain fruits and vegetables, and include beverages without excessive fat or sugar. The board overturned the veto of Mayor Gavin Newsom on November 23 to pass the law. The law has been ridiculed by the satirical news program The Daily Show. McDonald's circumvented the ban by charging 10 cents for the toys.
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