Kids' meal

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A Burger King kids' meal
The McDonald's kids' meal is called a Happy Meal.

The kids' meal or children's meal is a fast food combination meal tailored to and marketed to children. Most kids' meals come in colorful bags or cardboard boxes with depictions of activities/games on the bag or box and a toy inside.[1][2] Most standard kids' meals comprise a burger or chicken nuggets, a side item, and a soft drink.[2]


The first kids' meal, Funmeal,[3] 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.[5]

Some fast food corporations considered children their "most important" customers, owing to the success of the kids' meals.[5] 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 collectible series.[1] In 2006, $360 million of the expenditures of fast food corporations was for toys in kids' meals, which numbered over 1.2 billion.[5]

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' meal sales in 2011.[6] 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.[6] Kids' meal toys are also no longer appealing to the increasingly technology-oriented youth,[7] who prefer video games.[8]

Kids' meals have evolved in response to critics, offering healthier selections and greater variety.[8] 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".[9]


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[10] 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.[5]

Toys being inappropriate for the target audience's age group[edit]

Burger King has received controversy for promoting and aiming at children several PG-13 rated films, including 1998's Small Soldiers,[11] 2005's Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith,[12] and 2007's The Simpsons Movie.[13] McDonald's similarly received criticism for releasing Happy Meal toys for the film Batman Returns, eventually recalling and stopping the promotion of the toys following complaints from parents that Batman Returns was unsuitable for children.[14] When McDonald's promoted 2015's Minions there was controversy because parents thought one of the toys used profanity.[15]


In the United States, kids' meals have been blamed for ingraining unhealthy dietary habits in youngsters and augmenting child obesity.[16] In 2010, Santa Clara County, California implemented a ban on toys accompanying kids' meals that fail nutritional standards;[17] affected restaurants showed a 2.8- to 3.4-fold improvement in Children's Menu Assessment scores[18] from pre- to post-ordinance (e.g., improvements in on-site nutritional guidance; promotion of healthy meals, beverages, and side items; and toy marketing and distribution activities) with minimal changes at unaffected restaurants.[19][20] San Francisco County enacted the same ban,[21] and similar ones have been proposed or considered in other cities or states across the country.[note 2] Research that examined the impact of the San Francisco ban indicated that both affected restaurant chains responded to the ordinance by selling toys separately from children's meals, but neither changed their menus to meet ordinance-specified nutrition criteria.[19] Conversely, legislators in Arizona prohibited such restrictions, and Florida state senators proposed the same.[25]

Local governments in the United States have begun enacting legislation to require healthy default choices for children's meals served at restaurants, with nine new laws passed between 2020 and 2022.[26] In 2022, Golden, Colorado provided that a restaurant's children's meal must be served with water, dairy milk, or non-dairy milk alternative with less than 130 calories per serving.[27] A local law in Columbus, Ohio from 2020 also includes 100% fruit juice as a default healthy option.[27]

Prince George’s County, Maryland, and Montgomery County, Maryland include health requirements related to children's food offerings, in addition to the beverage offerings.[28] They are the second and third local governments to regulate food offerings in addition to beverages. Prince George’s County’s Healthy Children’s Meal Requirements law, for example, requires that food service facilities in the county that offer children’s meals offer at least one meal that, among other things, includes servings of non-fried fruits or vegetables, contains less than 550 calories, and is within specified limits for sodium, saturated fat, and added sugars.[29][27]

Outside the United States, Spain[30] and Brazil[31] have also considered such measures. Chile has banned toys in kids' meals altogether.[32]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Burger Chef filed suit against McDonald's over the Happy Meal but lost the case.[4]
  2. ^ New York City;[22] Superior, Wisconsin;[23] Nebraska[24]


  1. ^ a b Bishop, Pete (20 March 1990). "Fast food meals for kids come under fire". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 21 October 2012.
  2. ^ a b Reynolds, Annette (18 February 1989). "Restaurants serve up toys for kids". State Times.
  3. ^ Spartos, Carla (9 September 2009). "MC in a box". New York Post. p. 2. Archived from the original on 27 July 2021. Retrieved 21 October 2012.
  4. ^ Whitfield (26 September 2011). "New Factor Can Lift Stock, But It Can't Be Only Factor". Investor's Business Daily. Archived from the original on 9 July 2019. Retrieved 21 October 2012.
  5. ^ a b c d Smith, Andrew F. (2011). "Kids' meals". Fast Food and Junk Food: An Encyclopedia of What We Love to Eat. ABC-CLIO. pp. 393–394. ISBN 9780313393945.
  6. ^ a b Pedicini, Sandra (22 April 2012). "There's less appetite for children's meals at restaurants". Orlando Sentinel. Archived from the original on 26 April 2012. Retrieved 21 October 2012.
  7. ^ Horovitz, Bruce (28 May 2009). "Toys may be story in kids meals' steady decline". USA Today. Archived from the original on 3 December 2013. Retrieved 21 October 2012.
  8. ^ a b Smith, Joyce (27 June 2012). "Kids' meal orders decline as restaurants offer more healthful choices". The Kansas City Star. Archived from the original on 12 October 2012. Retrieved 22 October 2012.
  9. ^ Bernstein, Sharon (13 July 2011). "Restaurants to offer more-healthful fare for kids". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 22 May 2012. Retrieved 21 October 2012.
  10. ^ Christian, Ken (8 November 2010). "Study finds healthy kids' meal choices are few and far between". NBC. Archived from the original on 21 October 2012. Retrieved 21 October 2012.
  11. ^ "Small Soldiers, Big Controversy". E! Online. 10 July 1998. Retrieved 29 April 2016.
  12. ^ "Critics take aim at Burger King's 'Star Wars' meal - May. 24, 2005". Retrieved 29 April 2016.
  13. ^ "OT: BK toys for PG-13 Simpson's movie". The DIS Disney Discussion Forums - Retrieved 29 April 2016.
  14. ^ Olly Richards (September 1992). "Trouble in Gotham", Empire, pp. 21—23. Retrieved on 2008-08-14.
  15. ^ Jessica Eggert (9 July 2015). "Is this McDonald's 'Minions' toy saying 'what the f*ck' or what?". Mashable. Retrieved 29 April 2016.
  16. ^ York, Emily Bryson (10 April 2012). "McDonald's, rivals see diminishing appeal for kids meals". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on 14 November 2012. Retrieved 21 October 2012.
  17. ^ Bonisteel, Sara (28 April 2010). "Toys banned in some California fast food restaurants". CNN. Archived from the original on 5 October 2013. Retrieved 21 October 2012.
  18. ^ Krukowski, Rebecca A.; Eddings, Kenya; Smith West, Delia (2011). "The Children's Menu Assessment: Development, Evaluation, and Relevance of a Tool for Evaluating Children's Menus". Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 111 (6): 884–888. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2011.03.018. PMID 21616202.
  19. ^ a b Otten, Jennifer J.; Saelens, Brian E.; Kapphahn, Kristopher I.; Hekler, Eric B.; Buman, Matthew P.; Goldstein, Benjamin A.; Krukowski, Rebecca A.; O’Donohue, Laura S.; Gardner, Christopher D.; King, Abby C. (2014-07-17). "Impact of San Francisco's Toy Ordinance on Restaurants and Children's Food Purchases, 2011–2012". Preventing Chronic Disease. 11: 140026. doi:10.5888/pcd11.140026. ISSN 1545-1151. PMC 4110247. PMID 25032837. Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  20. ^ Otten, Jennifer J.; Hekler, Eric B.; Krukowski, Rebecca A.; Buman, Matthew P.; Saelens, Brian E.; Gardner, Christopher D.; King, Abby C. (2012). "Food Marketing to Children Through Toys". American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 42 (1): 56–60. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2011.08.020. PMID 22176847.
  21. ^ Park, Madison (1 December 2011). "Happy Meal toys no longer free in San Francisco". CNN. Archived from the original on 21 June 2012. Retrieved 21 October 2012.
  22. ^ Melnick, Meredith (6 April 2011). "New York City Council Considers Banning Happy Meal Toys". Time. Archived from the original on 17 January 2012. Retrieved 21 October 2012.
  23. ^ "Superior rejects ban on fast food toy". Associated Press. 8 December 2010. Archived from the original on 25 December 2010. Retrieved 23 October 2012.
  24. ^ "Senators reject ban on toys in Neb. kids' meals". Associated Press. 4 February 2011. Archived from the original on 24 July 2015. Retrieved 21 October 2012.
  25. ^ Levine, Dan; Lisa Baertlein (9 May 2011). "Fast-food lobbies U.S. states on Happy Meal laws". Reuters. Archived from the original on 30 December 2011. Retrieved 23 October 2012.
  26. ^ St. Louis, Mo., Ordinance 71490 (2022); Montgomery Cnty., Md., Bill 1-22 (2022); Longmont, Colo., Code of Ordinances ch. 9.70.030 (2021); Golden, Colo., Municipal Code ch. 5.21 (2022); Prince George’s County, Md., Code of Ordinances § 12-215–18 (2020); Columbus, Ohio, Code of Ordinances § 717.01 (2021); New Orleans, La., Code of Ordinances § 82-704 et seq. (2022); Cleveland, Ohio, Code of Ordinances § 241.43 (2021); Toledo, Ohio, Municipal Code § 1738.01 (2021)
  27. ^ a b c Karls, Amanda (April 30, 2023). "Food and Nutrition Policy at the Local Level: Recent Insights and Themes" (PDF). Healthy Food Policy Project, Center for Agriculture and Food Systems at Vermont Law and Graduate School. Retrieved May 10, 2023.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  28. ^ Prince George’s Cnty., Md., Code of Ordinances § 12-215–18 (2020); Montgomery Cnty., Md., Bill 1-22 (2022).
  29. ^ Prince George’s Cnty., Md., Code of Ordinances § 12-215–18 (2020)
  30. ^ Abend, Lisa (1 December 2010). "In Spain, Taking Some Joy out of the Happy Meal". Time. Archived from the original on 14 October 2012. Retrieved 21 October 2012.
  31. ^ Ellsworth, Brian (15 June 2009). "Brazilian prosecutor wants to ban fast-food toys". Reuters. Archived from the original on 5 October 2012. Retrieved 21 October 2012.
  32. ^ "Chile Bans Toys in Fast Food to Attack Child Obesity". Associated Press. 2 August 2012. Archived from the original on 4 October 2012. Retrieved 21 October 2012.