Is McDonald's Happy Meal Now Happier?

I walked into Food Republic HQ the other day dangling a McDonald's Happy Meal box at my side. As I walked toward the elevator, the woman at the front desk of our building lit up and exclaimed, "Ooh, a Happy Meal! I used to love those!" I didn't exactly share her nostalgic enthusiasm, so I immediately explained that it was only for research purposes. Yes, that's right, serious research.

Truthfully, Micky D's was not a big part of my childhood (we were more of a Duchess family), and I can't remember the last time I walked through the Golden Arches. My last McDonald's experience involved a desperate drive-through forced by extreme hunger, highway traffic and limited dining options. This time, I was sent on a mission to visit the McDonald's around the corner. Thus I was reunited with the throngs of customers clamoring for paper-bagged Big Macs and fountain sodas.

On the surface, not much appears to have changed in the McDonald's world: the basic menu of cheeseburgers, fries, chicken nuggets and Happy Meals seems to be etched in stone, or at least on those plastic menu boards. But on this day, Monday the 12th of September, a shift had supposedly occurred. Word of the new Happy Meal was sending tremors through the food community. The news on the street was that from now on, every new happy meal will contain about half as many fries and be served with a side of apple slices. This was announced in July, and the New York Post declared the 12th of September as the auspicious day when apple slices would be served.

I went to investigate this minor revolution and here's what I found:

Circling the premises, I searched for customers ordering Happy Meals. There were only a couple of parents with kids at the time, and neither of them was aware of the new Happy Meal. I made my way upstairs to the loft dining area and found what I was looking for — a woman(!) eating a Happy Meal. I asked her if she knew about the changes taking place. Her friend did, but she did not. When asked what she received in her little red box, she showed me the burger and fries. A plastic shoe keychain also came with meal, but there were no apple slices in sight.

I decided to order my own Happy Meal to see for myself. I elbowed my way to the counter and ordered one containing the 4 piece chicken nuggets. I asked if it came with apples and, when prompted, the cashier said that I could have a choice of apple dippers or fries. I chose the apples and waited. When I got my Happy Meal, it was clearly the wrong one. First of all, they gave me a boy's toy instead of a girl's (plastic robot vs. plastic shoe), and there were fries instead of apples.

Conclusion: At this Manhattan McDonald's, the changes have not yet taken effect, at least not during my visit. Apple slices do not come guaranteed with your Happy Meal. Customers still have to choose between fries and apples (as has been the case since 2004), but there is no advertisement that this choice is even possible. Even the McDonald's website states that a Happy Meal comes with, "...a choice of...World Famous Fries or Apple Dippers." The only reference to apples was the "fun apple facts" displayed on the back of the Happy Meal box (did you know that apples float because they are 25% air?). While the effort to educate children about the virtues of apples is admirable, I can't help but think it would be better if apples were actually present to eat.