Who's happy about adult Happy Meals?

May 06, 2004|By KEVIN COWHERD

AS SOON as the package arrived via overnight express mail, I took it to the McDonald's on Cold Spring Lane in North Baltimore in order to drive everyone mad with envy.

"This is the new Go Active! Happy Meal for adults you've heard so much about," I announced. "It will be rolled out nationally on Tuesday. But because I have connections in high places, I have obtained one in advance.

"You wish you could have one of these Happy Meals right now, don't you? But you can't, so don't even bother trying."

It was lunchtime and the place was crowded, which are the kinds of conditions you want for creating maximum food envy in others.

I took my Go Active! Happy Meal and sat down next to a man who introduced himself as Fred Krieger, a 63-year-old landscaper from Pikesville.

Krieger was laying waste to a modified No. 2 meal - two burgers with pickles, large fries and POWERade - and seemed perfectly content.

Then I unveiled the contents of my meal: grilled chicken Caesar salad, low-fat dressing, bottle of DASANI water and a little plastic thing called a Stepometer, which, if you decided to adopt an active lifestyle and were particularly neurotic, could measure how many steps you take.

"Admit it: You wish you could trade meals with me," I said to Krieger. "Don't bother denying it - your eyes tell the whole story."

"Not really," said Krieger. "That stuff just doesn't appeal to me for lunch. ... I eat salads at night for dinner."

Obviously, for whatever reason, Krieger was just being a kill-joy - at least that's what the big-wigs at McDonald's corporate headquarters will want to believe.

Because the new Go Active! Happy Meal is, of course, McDonald's attempt to get on the side of the angels when it comes to our new national obsession over how fat we've all become.

It's also a naked bid to shield the company from future lawsuits from folks who claim they've porked up and endangered their health from years of scarfing down high-calorie, high-fat Big Macs and Quarter Pounders with Cheese.

Look, McDonald's will be able to say, we don't just have the devil's menu here! We've got healthy stuff to eat, too!

We have salads! And low-fat dressing! And bottled water!

Hey, we'll even give you a cool Stepometer to wear on your waist! And a little fitness booklet created by Bob Greene, who's Oprah Winfrey's personal trainer!

So tell your lawyers to go home. No million-dollar lawsuit payday coming out of here, no sir.

Which begs the question: Will people really come to McDonald's for the healthy items on the menu?

Will their core customer base - say, the guy who pounds a 10-piece Chicken McNuggets, large fries, large Coke for lunch three times a week - suddenly walk into a McDonald's and think: "You know, a salad with low-fat balsamic vinaigrette dressing and a bottled water would really hit the spot about now"?

My hunch is no.

My hunch is McDonald's might pick up a few more customers with these new Go Active! Happy Meals.

But the hard-core McDonald's disciples are still going to shuffle up to the counter like zombies and order the usual: your Big Macs, your large fries, your tub-sized Cokes.

Look, even Fred Krieger - who likes salads and said he walks five miles a day on his job and hits the gym a few times a week - wants to eat the bad stuff when he pulls into McDonald's.

Or maybe I don't know what I'm talking about, which is always a possibility.

Because after failing to drive Krieger out of his mind with desire for the Go Active! Happy Meal, I talked to a couple at a nearby table, 37-year-old Chris Wooden of Perry Hall and his fiancee, 38-year-old Kelli Eccleston of Hampden.

Wooden was eating a double-cheeseburger, medium fries and POWERade.

A guy who's chowing down on a double-cheeseburger and fries, you figure he's going to look at a Go Active! Happy Meal and say: "What's next in here, yoga mats?"

But Wooden, who runs three miles a day and stressed that he's not a McDonald's junkie, said he'd definitely consider ordering a Go Active! Happy Meal when they're rolled out.

And Eccleston, who was eating fries and a fish sandwich - which is like the McDonald's version of Lean Cuisine - said of the adult Happy Meal: "I think it's a good idea."

In five days, we'll find out how many others agree with her.

And if this takes off, what's next at McDonald's?

Rice cakes?

Celery sticks and hummus?

Weekly weigh-ins where the deep fryer used to be?

Is nothing sacred anymore?

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