Happy Meal toy ban ready to take effect; McDonald's finds loophole

San Francisco's long battle over kids' meal marketing is nearly over. Or, perhaps, just beginning.

Legislation banning toys as part of QSR kids' meals that do not meet nutritional standards will go into place Thursday. Criteria include meals that exceed 600 calories and lack fruit or vegetables.

The measure was passed late last year and sponsored by Eric Mar, San Francisco city supervisor, who said the vote challenges the restaurant industry to think about children's health first.

Since the legislation passed, many QSRs, including McDonald's, Arby's, Popeye's and others have "slimmed down" their children's meals by offering apple slices and other alternatives. Jack in the Box pulled toys from its kids' meals all together.

McDonald's updated Happy Meals began rolling out in the fall and contain ¼-cup of peeled apples and a smaller portion of french fries. The changes cut the classic menu item's calorie count by 20 percent.

However, Mar told San Francisco news outlets this week that the revamped meals still fall short of the basic nutritional standards set by the city, and wouldn't have been implemented without this legislation.

Toys will still be available, with a catch

Despite the ban taking effect, McDonald's has found a way to continue offering the popular Happy Meal toys, but at a cost.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, McDonald's franchise owners in the city will charge 10 cents extra for a Happy Meal toy.

The four franchisees will donate proceeds from the toy sales to help build a new Ronald McDonald House in the area.

Danya Proud, director of media relations for McDonald's USA, said the 10-cent fee was settled on after surveying customers, who found the charge fair and reasonable.

Prior to this law going into effect, collectors could buy the Happy Meal toys for $2.18 and forego the meal. Now, those who want to pay the extra dime for the toys will be required to buy the Happy Meal.

Restaurants' compliance with the new law will be overseen by the San Francisco Department of Public Health. The department will also provide consultation on compliance and will set up a system for public alerts of potential violations.

Read more about health and nutrition.

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