Small changes to familiar combo meals can help cut calorie consumption

December 19, 2013

What would happen if a fast-food restaurant reduces the calories in a children's meal by 104 calories, mainly by decreasing the portion size of French fries? Would children compensate by choosing a more calorie dense entrée or beverage? Researchers at Cornell University, Dr. Brian Wansink and Dr. Andrew Hanks, analyzed transaction data from 30 representative McDonald's restaurants to answer that question.

Prior to 2012, the Happy Meal was served with one of three entrée options (chicken nuggets, cheeseburger, hamburger), a side item (apples or small size French fry), and a beverage (fountain beverage, white milk, , apple juice). By April 2012, all restaurants in this chain served a smaller size "kid fry" and a packet of apples with each CMB. Wansink and Hanks found that this change in default side offerings resulted 98 of the 104-calorie decrease in the CMB.

With such a large decrease in calories, would compensate by choosing a more calorie dense entrée or beverage? Wansink and Hanks found that 99% of children ordered the same entrée, and orders of chicken nuggets (the lowest calorie entrée) remained flat at nearly 62% of all orders. Yet, nearly 11% fewer children took caloric soda as a beverage and 22% more chose white or chocolate milk–a more satiating beverage. This increase was partially due to small changes in advertising for milk. Interestingly, the chocolate milk served in 2012 was of the fat-free variety compared to the 1% milk variety served previously. It also contained 40 fewer calories. Overall, the substitutions in beverage purchases resulted in 6 fewer calories served with the average CMB.

Small changes in the automatic—or default—foods offered or promoted in children's meals can reduce calorie intake and improve the overall nutrition from selected foods as long as there is still an indulgence. Importantly, balancing a meal with smaller portions of favored foods might avoid reactance and overeating. Just as managers have done this in restaurants, parents can do this at home.

Explore further: Fast food menus still pack a lot of calories, study finds

Related Stories

Fast food menus still pack a lot of calories, study finds

November 13, 2012

With grilled chicken, salads and oatmeal now on fast food menus, you might think fast food has become healthier. And indeed, there has been greater attention in the media and legislatively, paid to the healthfulness of fast ...

Recommended for you

Big Data can save lives, says leading cancer expert

May 16, 2016

The sharing of genetic information from millions of cancer patients around the world could be key to revolutionising cancer prevention and care, according to a leading cancer expert from Queen's University Belfast.

New soap to ward off malaria carrying mosquitoes

May 13, 2016

(Medical Xpress)—Gérard Niyondiko along with colleagues Frank Langevin and Lisa Barutel has posted a project on the crowd source funding site ulule for a product called Faso Soap. They claim the soap can cut in half the ...

Smartphones uncover how the world sleeps

May 6, 2016

A pioneering study of worldwide sleep patterns combines math modeling, mobile apps and big data to parse the roles society and biology each play in setting sleep schedules.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.