McDonald’s To Fill Happy Meals With What Kids Really Want: Books About Healthy Eating

I have two young nieces, and every year for Christmas they plead, “Dear Uncle Chrisso (yes, they call me that; shut up), don’t buy us toys or clothing! We crave illustrated books about the virtues of eating healthy!!” Well, McDonald’s has just made my holiday shopping a lot easier, as it plans to pack those kinds of books into future Happy Meal offerings.

AdAge reports that, for two weeks starting Nov. 1, McDonald’s will be putting four different books, each detailing all the reasons you should eat anywhere other than McDonald’s but presumably without saying so, inside Happy Meals.

Even though there are already books available on this topic, McDonald’s chose to create its own books to help educate youngsters on the topic of healthy eating. This allows the company to tailor the message so that kids don’t get the wrong idea that maybe fast food isn’t the best thing for them. Going in-house with the books also means they don’t have to pay a huge pile of cash to publishers for the rights.

The AdAge report has titles and details on two of the four books that some kids will probably never read and will try to rend once they realize there is no toy in their Happy Meals.

The first book is “The Goat Who Ate Everything,” which we had assumed was about a large-scale goat farm where farmers feed unnecessary antibiotics to the animals just to encourage muscle growth but end up causing a superbug that decimates the population. Alas, it’s apparently about a fat goat who learns to eat better.

“Deana’s Big Dreams,” is about some itty bitty dinosaur who grows tall after eating well (and, in an unpublished final chapter, grows ravenous and uncontrollable, devouring every living thing it passes). “Deana’s Big Dream” is also the title of a movie my friend Tom was accused of BitTorrenting via The Pirate Bay, but I’m pretty sure the two items are not related.

You’ll notice that while both books feature animals, neither animal will be found between a bun or battered and deep-fried at the Golden Arches.

“We think that this is a fun and engaging way to give a nutritional message to kids,” McDonald’s USA VP-marketing tells AdAge. “This is really the first step in a larger book strategy, and our intent is to continue over several years.”

In a statement that makes me wonder if the folks at Reading Is Fundamental actually believe in their organization’s title, the RIF CEO actually described McDonald’s as “a company that embraces the transformative power of books and is committed to helping families and communities thrive.”

The book push comes as there is growing criticism of Happy Meals and of McDonald’s marketing to children.

San Francisco has banned the sale of kids’ meals that include incentives like toys, which McDonald’s gets around by selling the toys for a few cents on the side.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest sued McDonald’s in 2010, alleging that the fast food company exploits children by using toys and other kid-centric marketing techniques to get them to want Happy Meals, but the case was dismissed in 2012 after McDonald’s argued that parents can always say no when their kids beg for Happy Meals and other treats.

Meanwhile, the folks at the Center for a Commercial-Free Childhood have started a petition calling for McDonald’s to shut down HappyMeal.com, calling it “a leading online destination for kids, featuring ads for the latest Happy Meal toys, photo opportunities with Ronald McDonald, and games — all designed to make children into devoted and lifelong McDonald’s customers.”