How Happy is the Meal You’re Paying For (Infographic)

I think most people in the world have probably spent money on a Happy Meal at one time or another. It’s a bastion of marketing success and stands as one of McDonald’s most recognizable and successful products.

With iconic products, especially food products that are marketed primarily to children, I think it’s beneficial to take a moment to investigate how products this recognizable and loved have become so iconic. 37% of children say McDonald’s is their fast food chain of choice, and no other company gets more than 10% of their vote.

This infographic lays out some of the details of the recent San Francisco Healthy Food Ordinance, and it also explores some of the facts behind how McDonald’s has become such a popular chain with children. I didn’t know before reading this, for example, that Happy Meal toys have made McDonalds is the world’s largest toy distributor. This infographic also lays how some of the backlash has inspired response from McDonald’s. I think it will be interesting to see how what they change and adapt to please both the customers that want more nutritious options, as well as the ones that want to be able to order one that may be less healthy.



  1. Thanks for creating this. I sometimes wonder if parents would actually continue to frequent these places if they actually knew what McDonalds did marketing-wise to take ownership of raising kids nutritionally.

    • Obesity begins in the home.. If you need to be “educated” that fast food isn’t the healthiest choice, than you probably have a lot more issues with raising kids to deal with other than french fires. The whole entire evil McDonalds / Child obesity canard has been a farce from the start. It has been any easy nanny-state target to allow them assert control- this no one can doubt.
      If you want to “attack” the obesity problem by regulating diet -eliminate Pizza, soda, snack foods, ice cream and candy – which have easier access in higher volumes for children – making them more the weight gainer than the dreaded happy meal. Sorry parents, but Obesity starts in the home- not at the fast food counter. Maybe a little less TV and more exercise too ? Offload responsibility to McDonald’s Corp. is a slippery slope.
      Here’s a personal experience tip for conflicted parents who dread the evil french fry- Just buy the damn toy separately or get the kid the toy and you eat the french fries. But please food police- don’t go after Pizza- just continue to pretend that it doesn’t exist. Eat mor Chiken.

      • sounds like Murph has their panties in a bunch because they work for mentioned fast food chain…

  2. I love your site and all your cool infographics! Perhaps you could also put together a “special edition” brief infographic related to this one that illustrates to parents how to occasionally say the word, “No” to whiny children in cases like this. It’s a great all-purpose word that’s worked wonders for us!

    All the best to you, and thanks for all the work you do on this site.

  3. Here’s a thought: Don’t go to McDonalds, and maybe once in a while, tell your kids NO. Let’s blame a multi-billion dollar corporation for trying to make more money, which is their intended purpose, correct? If you want to send them a message, quit buying their salty-sugary crap. As we saw in San Francisco, the market will find a way to right the wrong, rather than making another law. McDonalds is offering healthier options because that is how they know they’ll make more money, not because of some benevolent concern for your kids’ well-being. Just my $0.02

    • Exactly! Parents shouldn’t be counting on McDonald’s to offer healthier options to their kids. How about skipping McDonald’s and cooking from home or at least going to get healthier food instead?

      They’re out to spend as little as they can to maximize their profits.

      Crazy stats on the total revenue though – Wow!

  4. I learn a lot of info about mcdonald in this infographic Thx!
    @jennifer: yearh mcdonalds did marketing to take ownership of kids nutritionally, i agree with that, but ..who let’s mcdonald did that ? Parents ! cmon parents should be in charge of kids food(fast or not lol)

  5. By the way, I LOVE these infographics and cannot get enough of them! I find that most of the time they just report facts, leaving the reader to draw their own conclusions and eliminating debates. you can’t debate the facts!

    I, for one, do not eat meat, eat organic and do not trust processed or fast food in this country. I am raising a small child without the usual staples in a young diet in this country… chicken nuggets, sugary cereal, etc. So I obviously detest McDonald’s and everything they stand for.

    However, I do not think “pressure” will make them change their menu. They are going to continue to do the things that increase sales and profits.

    People need to start voting with their dollars. And obviously, 3 billion of those dollars voted for McDonald’s! It never ceases to amaze me that the drive through line always wraps around. And, I’m sorry, but there is only a portion of people that can claim ignorance when it comes to the nutritional value of McDonald’s.

    Also, as a parent that is vigilant about trying not to raise a “consumer” in the marketing mayhem of today’s world, I do understand that it is hard to prevent them from seeing ANY marketing messages. But it is possible to have great control of that. If parents do not want McDonald’s to reach their child, they just need to turn off the TV, engage them in conversation and educate them – from a very young age – about marketing.

    In our home, I am staging my own marketing strategy for a healthy lifestyle, sustainable living and what really matters in life. I figure this is better than the best celebrity endorsement deals out there since she’s my biggest fan 🙂 I am also working on developing an anti-marketing curriculum to train her to recognize these messages when she is older and encounters them. (i.e. I know that commercial made you feel that you would be happier if you had that bedspread, but do you really think that’s true?)

    Sorry for the long comment! This topic really gets me going 🙂

  6. While I do believe that restaurants play a role in influencing their consumers, I highly believe parents have a choice to provide healthy alternatives to children and to teach them to make good choices.

    I can provide my children with healthy meals and options at home. I can also teach them, by example no less, to order the milk and apple dippers if they want to eat fast food that is a little healthier. Parents are the biggest influencers of their children and play a huge role in helping them make healthy choices now and in the future. While I do see the facts and think as a whole, fast food chains should add healthy options, I am not a fan of blaming the industry for our children’s choices.

  7. I haven’t read this site in several months……what the heck happened to it? Is it under new ownership?

  8. You have some great information here! I am a registered dietitian. I do teach moderation in my family. My kids know the only time we get fast food is on a trip. I believe if you completely deny it, they may go fast food crazy once they get to college since they were never allowed to have it. I am happy to see continued improvements in the Happy Meals. I think fast food should be allowed in moderation, and as a treat, maybe a few times a year. Serving sizes should be kept small, and fruit should definitely be an option. In addition the more parents can let children know that it’s just a treat for sometimes, the better.

  9. Just curious- wouldn’t fries count towards the cup of vegetables? Potatoes are vegetables… Granted they are not done up in a very healthy way but you would think they would count towards this.

  10. Marketing to children?
    I’ve never seen a 6- to 9-year-old walk into McDonald’s, order a “Happy Meal” and pay for it.
    It’s the parent, or accompanying adult, paying who are responsible for making the choice for the child.

  11. Since I was sent an email, saying the following,

    “I came by your site today and wanted to make sure I had a working email for you. I also work for a blog,, and based on some of your posts, I thought you might like to stop by! Today, we’ve just released an infographic on the impact McDonald’s is having on children’s nutrition, and what’s being done to make the Happy Meal a healthy meal.”

    I will weight in.

    This blog actually says the EXACT OPPOSITE of what I believe.

    Which is, perhaps parents should take some responsibility for what their kids eat and do…..

    McDonald’s wasn’t much better for you in my day. They still had hamburgers, french fries, and fountain soda, but they just didn’t call it a “happy meal”

    In fact, on the rare occasion we went there, that is what I ate.

    Often times a Big Mac, and large fry. Maybe in my early teens, I would order a 20 piece Chicken Nuggets, with a hot fudge Sunday for desert, washed down with a large Root Beer.


    Of course after, I did go outside and ride my bike.

    Even though we had McDonald’s I didn’t get to go there that often.

    My mom cooked me lunch. I ate most of my meals at home. Either my mom would make me something, or I ate whatever was in the fridge.

    I also didn’t sit around playing video games. I went outside and rode my bicycle, climbed trees, and all sorts of other activities.

    I lot of the time, lunch was either a Grilled Cheese Sandwich, or a nice Steak Um, yet some how, miraculously, I wasn’t obese, and most of the kids I knew weren’t.

    Every once in a while, my friends mom would tell him he was “watching too much TV, and needed to go outside”…..

    Try this with your kids. I bet it is just as effective of weight control as in my day!

    Not just kids are obese. So are their adult parents….

    How about trying to go outside with your kids? Go for a walk with them…. Ride bikes as a family….

    Stop blaming someone else for all of yours, and your children’s problems, and take responsibility.

    Leave McDonald’s alone! On the rare occasion I go there, I don’t want to have to order some “McFruit nuggets”

    Here is another idea. It is REVOLUTIONARY!!!

    1. Buy some fruit at the store

    2. Slice it up

    3. Give it to your kids…

    Or do you think this is some complex procedure that only a business like McDonald’s can do?

    Is this the opinion you wanted? Or did you just want people to comment who agree with your side of things?


    • I totally agree. McDonalds is bad for kids if they go there weekly (or even more frequently). If parents feed their kids nutritious meals, and get them outside for some playtime, then a rare happy meal as a treat won’t kill them. It isn’t up to the government to regulate how much of a legal product we can consume, it is up to parents!

  12. And despite the infographic I like Mcdonalds, although we hardly get our kids happy meal, because my wife thinks it is bad for them.

    We go there, kids run around in the play place, while I clog my arteries, and fill myself with high fructose corn syrup. We might get them yogurt though.

    I think the reason most kids like Mcdonalds is because they consistently have play places, whereas the other restaurants don’t.

    I’m fine with pressuring McDonalds to stop whatever through consumer actions, as long as you don’t think pressuring them through government action is the right approach.

  13. It’s just a little to convenient to blame the fast food industry for the obesity epidemic. No one is forced to eat there. There was a time when people didn’t realize how unhealthy it was to consume that kind of food but now it’s really hard not to be inundated by the anti-fast food clamor.
    I don’t personally eat at McDonalds, but I don’t begrudge someone for going there. Life is full of choices, being informed is your best defense, and consuming anything should be done in moderation.

  14. Regulations and outright bans are oppressive. Pigovian taxes are the way to go – allow for behaviour, but disincentivize it, and use the money to incentivize proper behaviours.

  15. All I can say is WOW! McDonald’s knows how to make money, and this is just a perfect example of a product having longevity and money making potential!

  16. The answer is education, both of parents and children. Both need to be able to see through the marketing haze and make intelligent decisions about what they eat. Start with the parents, and kids will follow their lead. Pressuring McDonalds to change will not be a long-term solution to this problem, and I do not believe it appropriate to encourage governmental regulation, as in the case of San Francisco’s new laws about toys in kids’ meals. Education of the individual is the key.

  17. I’m a responsible parent. I will buy a happy meal every once in a while as a treat. In moderation, this is fine. In excess this is not fine. Just as giving my kid Reese’s Peanut Butter cups for breakfast would be. What I think is NOT fine is SF banning them. This is a parenting issue and NOT a government issue at all. No matter how bad the epidemic, it all comes down to parents taking responsibility. Period.

  18. I reply your email to me by comment. Well done..

    I love your graphic about this kind of junk food which my daughter so much loves it. I’ll always try another and another way to tell her not to consume this kind of foods.
    But.. You know how do kids think, don’t you?
    It’s so hard..

    Thanks for stopping by at my blog.



  19. Problem is sodium and fat makes food tastier and children are attracted to the tastier food in addition to attraction of toys. If parents can’t control children, we can’t forever blame to food vendor, can we?

  20. I have to say that I agree with Chas and Mark Fellows on this one. If obesity in kids were truly the fault of McD’s why not simply shut them down and problem solved – I don’t think so. Especially when a school system recently took a kid’s home packed meal of turkey and cheese sandwich on wheat bread, apple, and chips away from a kid and forced her to eat the cafeteria chicken nuggets – think those are any different than McD’s?

    We have lost our collective mind when it comes to refusing to take personal responsibility for our actions and for our kids. As parents we can and must say NO, we must teach them they are being marketed to and why that happens and how to react – if they are too young, then make the decisions for them. Suing McD’s for their meals – DON’T TAKE YOUR KIDS THERE. I love the folks that want to force McD’s to serve what they deem is OK and say they are freedom and liberty and personal responsibility – they are as bad as any other group forcing their views down another groups throats.

    I am disappointed to see this on the FrugalDad’s website as this has nothing to do with being frugal as you tie into nothing to do with spending money eating out vs. the value of eating at home – including better nutrition. Sad – and much more and I will certainly unsubscribe.

    Wake up people – we start forcing rules and gov’t regs on McD’s what is next – yes they will come into your home and tell you what to eat, what to drink, what to wear, and how to think. As for me – I will take personal responsibility for me and my family and when we make decisions we will suffer the consequences, but this is a very dangerous path that is prescribed in today’s blog and so many of you are ready to accept that mandating what a private business sells is part of the role of the Federal Gov’t . Don’t think that is the purpose of the Commerce clause for those of you that will go there.

    Live free – think for yourself – take personal responsibility –

  21. Children don’t understand self control, their health is almost exclusively the responsibility of their parents (up to a certain age, of course).

    That said it’s particularly eye opening that the Happy Meal barely passes two of the regulations of the San Fran Healthy Food Incentive Ordinance. And not at all surprising that the go-around was to just charge for the toy instead of, you know, maybe adding in some fruit and dialing down the salt and fat.

  22. Everyone interested in this topic should watch the film Fat Head. It’s on netflix streaming. here is the trailer:

    He shows you why Fast Food isn’t to blame for our health problems, and how it’s carbs and sugar that is making us fat, not eating fat itself.

  23. This is so awesome! I’m on my way to veganism, and this is only more reasons to stop eating meat. Cuz McDonalds basically owns the factories… hence, all meat is very unhealthy… anyway, very intriguing.