I’ve been off McDonald’s for awhile, trying to erase the sins of the holiday season by following the plan put forth in Tim Ferris’ book, The 4-Hour Body. It’s all about rapid fat loss and it’s been working pretty well, so I’m not eager to mess with it, but the beauty of the program is that once each week, you are required, that’s right, required, to binge. One must do so carefully, but still.
So this Saturday, I’m planning to head over to a Bay Area McDonald’s and try a new, limited-time product they launched this week called Fish McBites. I’m a sucker for restaurant history, so I thought it was cool when I learned that this year, McDonald’s celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Filet-O-Fish sandwich. That makes it a perfect time to launch a new fish product, but in 2013, we must be careful about sustainability and McDonald’s is on it with this one. Fish McBites contain wild-caught Alaska Pollock that is responsibly sourced from Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified sustainable fisheries. That makes McDonald’s the first fast food chain in the U.S. to offer MSC certified sustainable fish on its menu all year long (the same MSC certified Pollock is in the File O’ Fish sandwich too).
Fish McBites are only available until the end of March. They timed the launch to coincide with Lent, a period of time in the Christian calendar when people often decide to give up things, like red meat.
And Fish McBite’s aren’t only available in grown-up portions. For the first time ever, the limited-time Fish McBites Happy Meal brings a fish entrée option to the iconic Happy Meal.
Fish McBites Happy Meals with 1 percent low-fat white milk, 100 percent apple juice or fat-free chocolate milk, meet new nutrition criteria in the Council of Better Business Bureaus’ Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative.
I have 2 kids. A boy who is 7 and a girl who is 4. We’re lucky. They are not overweight. They are healthy. We work hard to put a variety of foods in front of them every day and to encourage fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains and low-fat protein. We have meatless meals and Dad is a vegan. So what am I doing taking my kids to McDonald’s, you ask?
McDonald’s is on a mission. Just ask Scott Rodrick. He has spent more than 20 years building a franchise of more than a dozen McDonald’s locations in San Francisco. His father was one of Ray Kroc’s earliest franchisees, opening the first McDonald’s in South Florida in 1950. If anyone has witnessed firsthand the changes that have taken place at the McDonald’s corporation, it’s Scott Rodrick.
He was generous enough to give a few food bloggers/writers a tour of one of his San Francisco McDonald’s and to explain just what’s been going on over the past few years. The tour, and the menu sampling that occurred afterwards were eye-opening for me. Now when I’m on the run looking for a healthy snack, I actually think, McDonald’s. Crazy. Right?
Here’s why it’s not as crazy as it sounds:
1. McDonald’s sources its fresh ingredients from the same places my supermarket does. Bagged Greens? Yes. Blueberries from the Central Valley? Done. Major Brand Apple Slices? You got it.
I assume that the fresh blueberries they’re putting on top of the Blueberry Banana Nut Oatmeal won’t be on the menu year-round, but they’re here now. These aren’t freeze-dried blueberries reanimated when hot water touches the oatmeal. These are true, fresh blueberries delivered almost daily to your local McDonald’s and sprinkled on top after the oatmeal is ready. See below for more about what the inside of a McDonald’s walk-in refrigerator is like and how the produce is stacked neatly in small packages. Just like home, but better.
2. Egg McMuffins are made with eggs that are cracked right onto the griddle.
I know. Right? The cooks crack the egg into a little nonstick fry ring like the kind you can buy at Williams-Sonoma. Want to cut down on the fat and calories in an egg McMuffin? Ask them to hold the cheese or hold the ham or both. Also, the English Muffin part has Margarine in it. You could ask about not using the Margarine, but I think it is literally in it, so remove one of the pieces of bread and eat it open top. Altogether, the one pictured here contains 300 calories and 12 grams of fat. No cheese brings it down to 250 calories and 9 grams of fat. I can live with that once in awhile.
3. My kids eat the apple slices and don’t finish their fries.
In early 2012, McDonald’s modified the happy meal and reduced the french fry serving size to 1 oz (100 calories). They added a bag of apple slices to every meal too. In San Francisco, to comply with a “no free toys” law, they started charging 10 cents for the toy and donating the proceeds to build a new Ronald McDonald house at UCSF. Not a bad solution.
We usually substitute bottled water (for a modest surcharge) for the milk. And you can also request 2 bags of apple slices instead of the 1 bag each of apple slices and fries. My kids are normal “kid eaters”, but they have really turned on to apple slices and are happy to forgo the fries. Worried about salt? Ask for your fries salt-free. It takes a little longer to get the meal, but fries are made every 7 minutes at McDonald’s, so you can get yours fresh, hot and salt free and never wait longer than 7 minutes.
4. Sure the strawberry banana smoothie has a lot of sugar in it, but so do smoothies everywhere else and the ones at McDonald’s have the most vitamin C. For the record, my kids order the small strawberry-banana smoothie which is a 12 oz drink clocking in at 210 calories.
This is a special treat for my kids and one that replaces getting a milkshake or an ice cream cone (something we rarely, almost never do). Given that, the 44g of sugar 1g of fat and 210 calories don’t seem so bad.
Ever wonder just how much sugar there is in the fruit smoothies you’re out there consuming? Well, I decided to compare Jamba Juice, Starbucks and McDonald’s. Each offers a 16 oz strawberry banana smoothie. Here is how they compare:
16 oz Strawberry Smoothie
16 oz Strawberry Alive Smoothie
16 oz Strawberry Banana Smoothie
Calories: 300 cal
Total Fat: 2g
Total Carbs: 60 g
Dietart Fiber: 7g
Protein: 16 g
% DR Vitamin C: 35%
Calories: 250 cal
Total Fat: 0g
Total Carbs: 50 g
Dietart Fiber: 2g
Protein: 11 g
% DR Vitamin C: 60%
Calories: 260 cal
Total Fat: 1g
Total Carbs: 60g
Dietart Fiber: 3g
% DR Vitamin C: 90%
5. The signature salads totally rock, as long as you’re not going to try to eat one in the car while driving.
McDonald’s doesn’t use preservatives in the bagged salad greens and they are delivered in regular sized bags. When you order a salad, there is a cook in the back who assembles it then. They put greens into a bowl, then sprinkle tomatoes on top, the beans, the little tortilla strips and finally, they slice a freshly grilled piece of chicken and place it on top.
Looking to control calories and fat with your salad? Skip the croutons and drizzle half of the dressing packet over the salad instead of the whole thing. Make sure you get the grilled chicken, rather than the crispy chicken.
6. The fruit and walnut salad is a great snack for the kids. It is the most hidden item on the menu. Even most employees don’t realize it’s there, but if you ask for it by name, they can find it.
The vanilla yogurt is yummy and low fat and has helped my children get over their fear of plain yogurt. This snack demonstrates to them that fruit, nuts and yogurt are a satisfying snack. It’s easy to handle in the car too.
7. The Honey Mustard Snack Wrap with Grilled Chicken is only 6 Weight Watchers® Points Plus™. I can order that when I’m driving and can’t order a signature salad.
This was a standby emergency snack the last time I did Weight Watchers. I lost 18 lbs. It helped me get over my double quarter pounder with cheese obsession.
8. The Fruit & Yogurt Parfait is a great dessert or snack. At only 150 calories and 2g of fat, what’s the big deal? It tastes great.
Another item to help introduce your children to the concept of fruit and plain yogurt. You can transition them over to organic ones that are less sugary once you convince them it’s a yummy breakfast or snack item in the first place.
9. You can ask for stuff just how you like it. No salt? Check. No mayo? Check.
Want another option that really doesn’t set you back calories and fat-wise? Try the Premium Grilled Chicken Classic Sandwich, but order it without the mayo and you’ll cut 5.5 grams of fat off of the total. Wonder how I know this? The McDonalds.com website features a nifty tool where you can deselect ingredients from any item on the menu and it will retally all of the nutritional information right in front of your eyes. See the Premium Grilled Chicken Classic Sandwich Nutrition tool here. The tool is a little buried. You will have to click on a little red plus sign next to the word Nutrition to get the tool to slide out. Once you get access, you’ll be amazed at how effectively you can cut fat and calories by eliminating mayo-based sauces and cheese. I also recommend eliminating half of a bun whenever possible.
10. The kitchens and pantries at McDonald’s are immaculate.
I toured a downtown San Francisco location right after the lunch-hour rush and everything was clean as a whistle. I expected the walk-in refrigerators to be stacked floor to ceiling with product, but that’s just not the case. Their walk-in fridge was more orderly and clean than my fridge at home. McDonald’s receives almost daily shipments, so no one shipment has to be too large. Fresh produce is picked at the farm, triple washed and delivered to McDonald’s locations within just a couple of days.
In the walk-in, we saw eggs in cartons by the dozen. A few bags of fresh greens, Maybe 10-15 fresh packs of individual serving blueberries and so on. If I hadn’t seen it for myself, I might not have believed it. We weren’t allowed to photograph it, but a nice kid from Connecticut was allowed to photograph it. His photo looks exactly like what we saw.
I’m impressed that McDonald’s is making such a huge effort to improve nutritional quality of their foods and that they are willing to invite small groups of people into their kitchens to see their efforts firsthand. Not every fast food chain is cutting salt and fat. Go to Carl’s Junior and get a The Amazing Grilled Cheese Bacon Six Dollar Burger™ and it will set you back 80g of fat!! and over 1000 calories! And that’s just for the sandwich. On the McDonald’s menu, the most fat grams you’ll encounter are about 40g for many of the bigger cheeseburgers. That is more fat that you should have in a day, so if you’re going to go the cheeseburger route, you gotta do it sparingly. The Double Double I like at In-And-Out Burger has 41 grams of fat, so even though everyone praises In-And-Out, they’ve got the same fat content as a McDonald’s Double Quarter Pounder.
All this to say, you can make healthy choices at McDonald’s if you try and you’re aware. And I’m surprised to find that it’s easier than ever and easier than elsewhere to do that for myself and my kids at McDonald’s.