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Happy Meals get healthy

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When McDonald's workers decided to create a new "adult Happy Meal," they knew they would have to make a few alterations.

The final package of the Go Active Meal will lack the mazes, word finds and bright colors of the more familiar children's version. Instead of a toy, the meal comes with a pedometer, which measures how far a person has walked or run in a day. But the biggest change is what's inside: Instead of the typical Chicken McNuggets or cheeseburger, it's a salad.

McDonald's Corporation, which built a fast-food empire around french fries and Quarter Pounders, has turned an about-face and begun to offer healthier menu choices to attempt to lure back health-conscious customers.

"The Go Active Meal is intended for any person interested in maintaining a healthy lifestyle," said Bill Whitmore, a spokesman for McDonald's.

The Go Active Meals also contain an exercise booklet, a choice of several different types of salad and either a bottle of water or a medium soft drink. The Go Active meals retail at $4.99, and are currently available only at 150 test locations in central Indiana.

Whitmore said customer response has been very positive.

Nutrition experts applaud the move toward more healthy offerings.

"Given the incredible obesity numbers we're looking at, anything in any way that gets people to pay attention to what they're putting in their mouths, I'm for," said Barb Troy, assistant biomedical sciences professor.

The Go Active Meal is part of a larger campaign to make over McDonald's, which posted its first quarterly net loss in 48 years of business in January 2003. Since then, McDonald's has taken major steps to overhaul its image as a fast food chain offering only unhealthy items.

On March 10, the company reached a deal with Newman's Own, an organic foods company, to use itsdressings on a line of new "Premium" salads. Newman's Own also provides the salsa for the new Del Rio Salad, which is only available in Go Active Meals, Whitmore said.

The Go Active Meals will be promoted by Bob Greene, a licensed exercise physiologist and certified personal trainer who is also "the fitness expert who helped Oprah lose weight," according to his book, the bestselling "Get With the Program!"

"Bob Greene is probably the best known fitness instructor in America, and incorporating his name with ours is a win-win situation," Whitmore said.

Greene's duties will include speaking to groups on behalf of McDonald's and promoting the Go Active Meals, Whitmore said.

The Go Active Meals will not be without their competitors. Burger King recently launched a line of "Fire-Grilled Chicken Baguette Sandwiches," which are marketed as having only five grams of fat.

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