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Have It Your Way: The Evolution of the Kids' Meal

Fast food restaurants attempt to make Happy Meals seem a little happier.


In 1979, McDonalds sold its first Happy Meal in the United States. By pairing deep-fried, sauce-slathered foods with an unending parade of new toys, McDonalds exploded America's junk food audience. Fast-food joints spent the next three decades competing to capitalize on the kid market, then trying to make that look less bad.

In recent years, that dance has gotten trickier. Parental and government concerns over the aggressive marketing of fast food to kids have reached a boiling point. McDonalds has responded by downsizing its fries and letting kids choose white or chocolate milk instead of soda. Jack in the Box stopped pairing toys with its kids' meals. Burger King rolled out apples cut to look like french fries. This month, the King upped its feel-good game: it is now pairing its kids' meals with kid-friendly charitable donations.

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