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Why Are Parents Ordering Fewer Happy Meals These Days? — Dollars and Sense

David Paul Morris, Getty Images

Sales of Happy Meals and other children’s meals that come with a toy inside the box have declined six percent over the past five years. So has all the information about childhood obesity finally sunk in with parents?

Maybe, maybe not.

A lot of attention has been paid in recent years to the sometimes insidious marketing techniques used by fast food restaurants to engender brand loyalty in even the youngest of consumers.

States like California have filed lawsuits to stop McDonald’s from including toys in kids’ meals, and some childhood obesity experts have even compared Ronald McDonald to Joe Camel, the cartoon character allegedly created to make smoking look cool.

But while the sales of children’s meals have dropped steadily since 2007, analysts note that there’s no data indicating kids are actually eating less fast food — only that parents aren’t ordering things specially designed for little ones. Many believe they’ve instead switched to getting items off the dollar menu instead to save money.

And restaurant analyst Bonnie Riggs said some children just don’t want the meals that are the equivalent of sitting at a kids’ table during holiday dinners. “They’ve become more sophisticated in their palettes,” she added. “They’re looking for smaller versions of some of the things mom and dad order.”


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