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The kids' meal or children's meal is a fast food combination meal tailored to and marketed to youngsters. Most kids' meals come in colourful bags or cardboard boxes with depictions of activities on the bag or box and a plastic toy inside. The standard kids' meal comprises a burger, a side item, and a soft drink.
The first kids' meal, Funmeal, emerged at Burger Chef in 1973 and succeeded. Discerning the popularity of the kids' meal, McDonald's introduced its Happy Meal in 1978,[note 1] and other fast food corporations, including Burger King, followed suit with their own kids' meals.
Some fast food corporations considered youngsters their "most important" customers, owing to the success of the kids' meal. Their effectiveness has been ascribed to the fact that the patronage of youngsters often means the patronage of a family and to the allure of the toys, which often are in collectable series. In 2006, $360 million of the expenditures of fast food corporations was for toys in kids' meals, which numbered over 1.2 billion.
In recent years, the popularity of the kids' meal has receded, with a study by NPD Group indicating that there was a 6% decrease in kids' meals sales in 2011. Explanations include parents' realization that kids' meals are unhealthy, parents' desire to save money (opting instead to order from the value menu), as well as kids' outgrowing the meals earlier than before. Youngsters have "become more sophisticated in their palates" and seek items from the regular menu but in smaller servings. Kids' meal toys are also no longer appealing to the increasingly technology-oriented youth, who prefer video games. Also, the kids meal toys of Wendy's and Chick-Fil-A are no longer appealing to ages 8–12.
Kids' meals have evolved in response to critics, offering healthier selections and greater variety. In 2011, nineteen food chains participating in the Kids Live Well initiative—including Burger King, Denny's, IHOP, Chili's, Friendly's, Chevy's, and El Pollo Loco—pledged to "offer at least one children's meal that has fewer than 600 calories, no soft drinks and at least two items from the following food groups: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins or low-fat dairy".
There have been concerns from food critics about the nutritional value of the kids' meal. A 2010 study by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity inspecting the kids' meals of twelve US food chains concluded that of 3,039 entrée combinations, twelve satisfied the advised levels of fat, sodium, and calories for preschool kids and fifteen those for older kids.
Toys being inappropriate for the target audience's age group
Burger King has run kids meal promotions featuring toys of characters from PG-13 movies at least four times, such as Small Soldiers in 1998, Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith in 2005, and the Simpsons movie in 2007, One of the McDonald's toys featuring Minions characters in 2015 has caused controversy because parents have confused the gibberish talking minion with profanity. This was said to have taught young children an invalid language. As a result, the minion toys promotion was ended early, in July 2015.
In the United States, kids' meals have been blamed for ingraining unhealthy dietary habits in youngsters and augmenting child obesity. In 2010, Santa Clara County, California implemented a ban on toys accompanying kids' meals that fail nutritional standards. San Francisco County enacted the same ban, and similar ones have been proposed or considered in other cities or states across the country.[note 2] Conversely, legislators in Arizona prohibited such restrictions, and Florida state senators proposed the same.
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