The Reality Behind McDonald’s Happy Meals Is Making Parents Think Twice Before Ordering

There are few things more irritating than dealing with a screaming child suffering from the dreaded pangs of “hangryness.” But, every worn-out parent also knows if they see those golden glowing arches of McDonald’s, they’re in luck. All it takes is one Happy Meal for the inner beast of a famished child to retreat back into its cave. Thanks to McD’s, plenty of moms and dads have retained their sanity because of these kid-oriented meals. However, Happy Meals weren’t always an option, and their permanent journey onto the menu was pretty awesome.

Ah, the McDonald’s Happy Meal. A item perfect for a child who’s not only hungry, but also wants a cool toy to entertain themselves with on the drive home. They’re also a saving grace to every parent.

David Paul Morris / Getty Images

Moms and dads will be the first to admit how much of a nightmare restless and hungry children are, but Happy Meals always seem to be the antidote. However, that cure wasn’t always available.

Kristian Dowling / Getty Images

In the early days of the Golden Arches, there was no option for little ones. Everyone had the same menu to order from, until a woman named Yolanda Fernández de Cofiño stepped into the picture in the mid-70s.

Barbara Alper / Getty Images

Yolanda was a Chilean woman who married a man named José Cofiño, the owner of all the McDonald’s franchises in Guatemala. She came up with an idea to add a fun-sized meal designed for those with smaller appetites.

Originally called “Menu Ronald,” the meal consisted of a hamburger, small fries, and an ice cream sundae. This was a brilliant idea that almost immediately took off, and it caught the attention of an American advertising executive.

Bob Bernstein loved the idea of a meal designed for the youngest demographic McDonald’s catered to, so he took it upon himself to revamp Yolanda’s idea for American consumers. He drew inspiration for the boxes from cereal.

The Lima News

Every morning he watched his son interact with the puzzles and games on cereal boxes, and he knew those same activities would soar on Happy Meal boxes. In 1979, the first circus-themed McDonald’s Happy Meal was launched.

However, Bernstein made an additional change with the Happy Meals that had kids going crazy for them: He included a toy with every order! Kids not only had their appetites satiated, but their love of playtime, as well.

David Paul Morris / Getty Images

Soon enough, every child who saw the big McDonald’s arches begged their parents for a Happy Meal so they could get a secret toy. A couple of the earliest toys included were a “McDoodler” stencil and a “McWrist” wallet.

Brad Barket / Getty Images

McDonald’s immediately knew they had lightning in a bottle. But, now that they launched something so successful, how could they make it even more enticing? The answer: partner up with popular brands.

Chicago Tribune

The very first film partnership Happy Meals took on was for Star Trek. Ads for the collaboration ran everywhere, with television commercials promising kids a “Star Trek prize” with every meal. More collaborations quickly followed.

Anything that was popular at the time had a slew of tiny toys created in their image for kids. Disney characters had a good run and Nintendo toys were a smash, but nothing compared to what happened in 1997.

Bob Riha, Jr. / Nintendo of America via Getty Images

The massive success of Ty Beanie Babies created an immensely lucrative campaign between McDonald’s and the bean-filled animals. Every Happy Meal included a different Teenie Beanie Baby, and even adults were obsessed with them.

Over the years, McDonald’s altered the offerings inside their Happy Meals to cater to the demands of the consumers. For example, chicken nuggets weren’t even an option until 1983, and it wasn’t until the late ’80s that milk entered the frame.

McDonald’s had something special on their hands, and even though other fast-food restaurants created their own versions of kids’ meals, the Happy Meal was boss. In 2004, the boxed meals again underwent another huge change.

Elsie Hui / Flickr

Seeing as obesity was on the rise, McDonald’s wanted to offer healthier options in Happy Meals. So, much to the dismay of dessert-loving children, sliced apples were included instead of cookies.

osiris / Reddit

McDonald’s is clearly hip to the latest trends, and they’re ready to make whatever changes necessary to bring in new customers and retain current ones. Celebrity faces and movie partnerships work wonders for profits, as does an enthusiastic mascot.

Erik Voake / Getty Images

For the longest time, Ronald McDonald was the iconic figure. The red-haired clown and his kooky crew helped promote new menu items. However, the company did away with Ronald in 2016 and replaced him with Happy.

Mike Fuentes / Getty Images

Happy is an anthropomorphic Happy Meal box with a big ol’ smile and a penchant for fast-food. But, he also loves fruit and playing sports, and that encourages kids to stay active after gobbling down a cheeseburger!

Happy Meals aren’t going away any time soon, and for good reason. They’re affordable and offer kids entertainment. But, they’re not the only way to get the most bang for your McDonald’s buck.

Catherine Ivill / Getty Images

1. If you’re traveling out of the country, go to a local McDonald’s to see if it has anything on the menu not offered in the United States. Many places have special items unique to the country, like Taro Pie in Hawaii or fried chicken with pasta in the Philippines.

2. There are two kinds of eggs McDonald’s uses for their breakfast items: fresh eggs and a yellow liquid egg substitute. In order to ensure you always get the fresh kind, ask for your breakfast with a “round” egg.

3. What happens if you’re standing in line and suddenly crave a grilled cheese? It’s not on the menu, right? Actually, you can ask the workers to just put cheese between breakfast sandwich buns and viola!

4. Even though you have a hankering for chicken nuggets, you might not always want to get the 20-piece box; that’s a lot of nugget. However, if you’re looking for the smartest financial decision, 20 is the way to go. Each nugget costs about 25 cents, whereas a 10-piece box is 36 cents per piece.

5. People might opt to get a salad when they go to McDonald’s thinking it’s a healthier alternative, but it actually isn’t. Mickey D’s kale salad has more calories, fat, and sodium than a Big Mac. It has less protein, too!

6. Many people were crushed to learn their favorite McDonald’s salads were nowhere near as healthy as they thought. However, the Premium Bacon Ranch Salad is only 220 calories, and at five dollars, it’s a healthy affordable alternative to a greasy burger.

7. If you frequent McDonald’s, there’s no good reason why you shouldn’t download the app. You’ll be the first one to know about sales, coupons, and special promotions. You’re on your phone anyways, so download it!

8. Unless you actually watch an employee make a new batch of fries, you never know how long they’ve been sitting under those heat lamps. In order to ensure fresh fries, ask for them without salt. They’ll fry a new batch on the spot, and then you get to control your sodium intake.

9. If you do the math, to truly get the most bang for your buck, ordering the Sausage Biscuit is essential. Each individual calorie breaks down to a measly three ten-thousandths of a cent. Order up and dig in!

10. Don’t throw away your receipts! On the back of every McDonald’s receipt is a code that will get you 50 percent off your meal if you go to the company’s website and fill out a survey using the code. For half the money that McDouble will taste twice as good!

11. When you see a long line of cars at the drive-thru window, it’s easy to assume going inside to the counter is quicker. However, like most fast-food places, McDonald’s prioritizes the drive-thru, so unless there’s no one inside, waiting in your car is likely your best bet.

12. At McDonald’s, the Big Mac reigns supreme. But, they can be a little pricey if you’re on a tight budget. Don’t worry though; if you’re craving the taste of a Big Mac just order the McDouble and ask for it “dressed like a Mac.” Sure, it’s smaller, but it tastes just the same.

13. Most of us don’t ask for a receipt after we order, but having a worker print one out for you can actually work in your favor. Sometimes employees might suspect you to be a secret shopper and give above-average service.

14. While ketchup is probably the condiment used most often to dunk French fries, some people prefer mayonnaise. McDonald’s might not offer mayo in their condiment dispensers, but you can always ask for some on the side.

15. As with any food establishment, there are good times to go and bad. You always want the food as fresh as possible, so go from 7-9 a.m. for breakfast, 11-2 p.m. for lunch, and 4-6 p.m. for dinner.

16. Of all the items on the menu, many McDonald’s employees agree the McFlurries are way overpriced for what you’re getting. Instead, order a regular sundae and then ask for the McFlurry topping on the side.

17. If you’ve ever looked at the bun on a Filet-o-Fish and thought it looked different from other buns, you’re right! The sandwich uses a steamed bun as opposed to a grilled one, and you can ask to have any sandwich made using it.

18. Is there a promotional drink you want to try but don’t feel like paying for? Order a cheap drink and then ask for the special drink when you get your refill. The free refills are one of the best aspects of McDonald’s.

19. McDonald’s has a “buy five get one free” deal on their McCafe coffees, but what happens if you lose the piece of paper proving you’ve bought enough to warrant a free one? The phone app can scan barcodes and track the amount of coffee you drink, so you’ll never miss your free cup of joe.

20. What happens if you can’t decide what flavor shake to order? Instead of settling on just one, tell the cashier you’d like a “Neapolitan milkshake.” They’ll combine vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry for one flavor-packed drink.

21. No one should condone dishonest behavior, but one way to get free stuff is to straight up lie. There have been customers who claimed the drive-thru window shorted them an item, and with enough complaining inside, they’ll usually get that item for free.

McDonald’s certainly isn’t the only place with some surprising facts. We might think we know everything there is to about our favorite places to grab a quick bite, but in truth, there are plenty of tidbits about those restaurants that even we haven’t heard before…

1. Even though Dunkin’ Donuts is known for oodles of doughnuts, it actually makes less than 10 percent of its profits off those iced rings of deliciousness. According to several franchises, roughly 65 percent of their sales is due to beverage purchases.

2. If you’ve been to Chipotle and ordered the guacamole, there’s a very good chance it could have come from singer Jason Mraz’s avocado farm. Every year, he sells 30,000 pounds of avocados to the chain restaurant!

3. Every time a customer orders a sizzling fajita dish at Chili’s, the kitchen automatically starts prepping more. The mere smell of the sizzling dish almost always means surrounding customers will order them. This is known as the “fajita effect.”

4. In 2003, Red Lobster offered a nationwide endless crab special at their restaurants thinking it would attract more customers. It certainly did… and they lost over a million dollars every month while the special was running. Some discounts do more harm than good!

5. In 1988, Denny’s, which is known to stay open 365 days a year, decided to close down for Christmas. However, because they had never closed before, 700 of their buildings needed to have locks installed because there weren’t any!

6. The popular chain restaurant Jack in the Box is known for its tacos, but you probably had no idea just how many it sells annually. That would be a whopping 554 million tacos every year, which breaks down to over a thousand tacos a minute!

7. Subway’s “BMT” is one of the most popular sandwiches it sells, but most people probably have no idea what the name stands for. It’s an acronym for the Brooklyn Manhattan Transit, which was a subway that operated in New York City from 1923 to 1940. The name has since been updated to mean “Bigger, Meatier, Tastier.”

8. On Halloween night in 2004, a customer ordered a burger with 100 beef patties and 100 slices of cheese from In-N-Out. The restaurant honored the zany request, but they’ve since created a rule so customers can only order a maximum of four patties and four cheese slices on one burger.

9. It takes a lot of hard work to climb a corporate ladder. Julia Stewart, the current CEO of the popular breakfast restaurant IHOP, actually began her career as a server. Talk about working your way up the chain!

10. South Korea ran a Dunkin’ Donuts campaign where they sprayed a coffee-scented mist onto buses at the same time the Dunkin’ Donuts jingle played over the radio. Stores saw a 16 percent increase in visitors and a 29 percent increase in coffee sales.

11. The mints you get at the end of a meal at Olive Garden closely resemble Andes Mints, but they’re actually different. Andes Mints have a layer of mint between two layers of chocolate, but Olive Garden’s mints have equal layers of both flavors.

12. The flavor of the Frosty at Wendy’s is actually an even mix of chocolate and vanilla. The founder of the restaurant, Dave Thomas, felt a full chocolate Frosty would have been too overwhelming when paired with burgers and fries.

13. The people behind the incredibly popular Taco Bell ad campaign involving the chihuahua never initially got paid for their idea. In 2003, however, they won a lawsuit for over $30 million, plus $12 million in interest!

14. KFC is known for having a super secret recipe of spices for its fried chicken. In order to keep the secret, the company actually divides the mixture between two different factories so neither one knows what the other one does for their half of the recipe.

15. Ever since it started, McDonald’s has employed a lot of people. In fact, it’s employed so many that one in eight Americans end up working at the chain restaurant at some point in their lives.

16. Even though Taco Bell prides itself on its delicious “Mexican” cuisine, there are actually no establishments south of the United States border. The restaurant made two attempts—one in 1992 and one in 2007—to enter the market, but both failed.

17. People know Shake Shack for its burgers, but Danny Meyer’s groundbreaking joint actually had a slew of other menu items it originally intended on selling before the burgers took over. These included doughnuts, custard floats, and espresso drinks.

18. Everyone needs their fill of coffee in the morning, and members of the CIA are no different. There is actually a Starbucks inside the CIA headquarters called “Store Number 1,” and employees aren’t allowed to write names on the patrons’ cups.

19. Most people know Chick-fil-A’s ads urge customers to “eat more chicken,” but certain locations in some southern states actually sell burgers as well. The original location in Hapeville, Georgia, also sells regional fare like sweet potatoes, fried okra, and collard greens.