There's something comforting about the McDonald's Happy Meal. That little meal in a box - kind of the adolescent version of the military's MRE - was introduced 25 years ago and quickly joined the arsenal of weapons parents' employ to maintain their sanity while putting food in their children's tummies.
The Happy Meal was an ingenious invention. Parents quickly found that by commandeering the toys that come with the meal, they could bribe their children into eating: "You can't play with the Beanie Baby until you've finished your chicken nuggets." Down went the food. Out came the toy. Everyone was happy.
When McDonald's merged Happy Meals and play grounds, parents had yet another reason to celebrate. They had yet another way of bribing their kids to eat: "You can't play until that cheeseburger is gone."
But this truly American institution has gone too far with the planned May 6 introduction of the Adult Happy Meal. Here's what you'll get: salad, bottled water, a pedometer and advice to walk more.
This is clearly McDonald's attempt to shed its reputation as a prime sponsor of American obesity for new fame as a purveyor of health food. But let's get real. The walking, running, iron pumping crowd has never given McDonald's much credence as a distributor of nutritious food. And they aren't likely to start.
Meanwhile, most adults who dine at the nation's No. 1 fast-food restaurant really want two things: 1) to get food inside their children with a minimum of effort, and 2) to satisfy their cravings for Big Macs.
The people behind the marketing of McDonald's Adult Happy Meals would rather have you believe that more and more moms are resisting the urge to steer their SUVs toward the Golden Arches because the menu doesn't have anything they want to eat. The Adult Happy Meal is intended as an answer to that dilemma.
Still, the low calorie food at McDonald's misses the point. They want to make adults happy? What most customers want - even though they won't admit it - are supersized fries, a Big Mac and a triple-thick shake. Now that's a real Adult Happy Meal.