While most children today take the presence of the McDonald's Happy Meals for granted, the kids' meal was originally not a part of the burger chain's menu. The Happy Meal was only introduced after the need for such a menu option was seen by local chain operators and managers, causing the powers that be at McDonald's to search for the perfect solution to the growing demand for a kid-friendly meal option. Thus, the Happy Meal was born and introduced across the nation, and while it has evolved since its introduction, it still remains one of McDonald's most popular menu items.
While the first McDonald's restaurants were opened in the late 1940s, the primary focus of the menu at the fast food spots was its inexpensive hamburger. As the chain grew and expanded throughout the nation, owners received many requests for the addition of a child-friendly meal to the growing McDonald's menu. While local owners and managers relayed these requests to the advertising executives at McDonald's throughout the 1950s and 1960s, it was not until 1977 that the advertising team was given the task of creating a Happy Meal. The first Happy Meal was introduced to the public in June 1979.
Dick Brams, the so-called "Father of the Happy Meal," was the Regional Advertising Manager that commissioned the creation of the first Happy Meal, which had a circus theme. The first Happy Meal, when introduced in 1979, featured Circus Wagon Train toys like a stencil, puzzle lock, wallet, ID bracelet, spinning top and McDonald-land character erasers. When the Happy Meal was introduced, it sold for just $1.
When the Happy Meal was first introduced, it included a toy, hamburger or cheeseburger, french fries, soft drink, and small package of cookies. Eventually chicken nuggets were added to the Happy Meal menu in 1989 and the option for apple slices instead of fries was introduced in 2004. Happy Meal toys have changed a great deal since the meal's inception, and while McDonald-land characters still make appearances, popular children's movie characters appear more frequently in Happy Meals.
Since the Happy Meal was first introduced decades ago, children and adults alike have made a serious hobby of collecting Happy Meal toys. Some of the most popular Happy Meal toys over the decades include Ty Beanie Babies and Disney movie characters. The McDonald's advertising and marketing teams stay current on popular children's toy trends and consistently put out meals with desirable characters and themes.
Due to recent national and worldwide emphasis on decreasing childhood obesity and improving overall childhood health and eating habits, the Happy Meal has changed in recent years to include healthier options. When the Happy Meal was introduced there was little focus on the nutrition of the meal since most children only ate a Happy Meal as a special treat, but as fast food become more of a societal dietary norm, the need to improve the nutritional content of the Happy Meal became apparent. While children can still choose the hamburger or cheeseburger, fries and soft drink option, now they can also select from healthier menu items like chicken nuggets, apple slices and low fat milk or juice.
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