McDonald's is CHANGING its Happy Meals – here's everything we know

A new future for the Happy Meal



Brimming with kid-sized menu items and a miniature toy, the Happy Meal has been delighting children across the globe for over four decades. But its future is set to evolve as the fast food chain announces it will be making drastic changes to its iconic offering.

Click or scroll our gallery to discover what’s happening to the legendary Happy Meal, from new menu items to sweet treat inclusions. 

More options for little ones



The Happy Meal, first introduced in 1979, has offered the same standard inclusions, from Chicken McNuggets to a classic Hamburger, for many years. But McDonald’s has recently unveiled new plans to revive the offering, with a trial taking place across the UK, before potentially being rolled out elsewhere. The brand will expand its child-focused options, adding the already popular Saver Menu favourite, Mayo Chicken (crispy coated chicken with lettuce and mayo in a bun), and Fish Bites (breadcrumbed pollock pieces with tangy sauce options) alongside its current main options.

Big changes are brewing

<p>6428W Digital Art/Shutterstock</p>

6428W Digital Art/Shutterstock

The new offering will also include flavoured milk cartons in strawberry, chocolate and banana. Meanwhile, a new frozen dessert made with fruit juice and pureé, named the McFreezy, will be the additional sweet treat option. It’s being trialled at 187 restaurants across the UK for 14 weeks from 29 May and, if all goes well, may be rolled out globally down the line. It’s not the only change; McDonald’s recently launched an affordable menu called ‘3 for £3’, allowing UK diners to mix and match on everything from a Cheeseburger and Veggie Dippers to Small Fries and Apple Pie. Currently available until 11 June, we’re holding out hope it sticks and launches elsewhere.

How much do you really know about McDonald's and its famous creations? Read on to learn about the fascinating rise of the world's biggest fast food chain, from humble first location to global fame.

From small fries to Big Macs



Looking at McDonald’s now, with 38,000-plus restaurants in more than 100 countries, it’s hard to picture a time before it dominated the world. However, like all great success stories, McDonald’s beginnings were tough – just two working class brothers opening a burger bar, with a dream to make a million before they reached 50. Here, we look at how McDonald’s has transformed from its inception in 1940 to the present day.

1940: McDonald’s Bar-B-Q



It all started when brothers Richard and Mac McDonald opened a drive-in called McDonald’s Bar-B-Q on 14th and E streets in San Bernardino, California, in 1940. Nothing like the restaurants of today, carhops delivered barbecued meat sandwiches and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to customers' cars. However, the McDonald's brothers thought they could do better and, in 1948, they closed the restaurant and reinvented it to have a menu with only nine items.

1943: root beer float



In the early years of McDonald’s, the menu included root beer floats, ham and baked beans and other retro delights. And while these options were phased out in the USA in 1948, some McDonald's around the world still feel the influence of those early menu items. Today, those visiting the Golden Arches in the Philippines have the option of Coke, green apple, melon and lychee McFloats. In 2016, select New York and Seattle McDonald's sold Dr. Pepper floats, too.

1948: Speedee the mascot



In the days before Ronald McDonald was on the scene, McDonald's mascot was a miniature animated chef named Speedee (pictured). He appeared on the McDonald’s Bar-B-Q sign in 1948 and remained part of the company until 1955, along with the blue, red and white packaging.

1949: do you want fries with that?



McDonald's French Fries have garnered a reputation for being some of the best, yet they haven't always been the same. In 1949, McDonald’s swapped out potato chips for the stick-thin fries of today, and in 1967, when Idaho-based Simplot Company became McDonald's supplier, frozen fries took over. However, in 1992, fries cooked in beef tallow, which people claim taste better, were swapped for those cooked in vegetable oil.

1955: the first official McDonald's

<p>Library of Congress/Picryl</p>

Library of Congress/Picryl

In 1954 a Chicagoan, Ray Croc, visited the McDonald brothers and immediately saw its potential. He became their franchising agent, starting McDonald’s System Inc. The first of these new restaurants was 400 North Lee Street in Des Plaines, Illinois, near Chicago (pictured). The iconic building with golden arches was designed by Stanley Meston and first day sales totalled around $366.12 (around £290).

1963: take a seat



It wasn’t until 1963 that customers could actually take a seat inside a McDonald’s restaurant. Prior to this, the restaurants were all drive-ins. The first McDonald’s to introduce a seating option was in Denver, Colorado. It would have looked similar to the seating pictured outside this McDonald's, in 1970. Although, we can't guarantee all the McDonaldland crew – Hamburglar, Grimace, Mayor McCheese, Captain Crook and the Big Mac – were always there.

1965: Filet-O-Fish



The divisive Filet-O-Fish arrived on McDonald's menus nationwide in 1965. A breadcrumbed fish sandwich with tartare sauce and American cheese, it was invented by Lou Groen, a McDonald’s Cincinnati franchisee, in 1963. Its purpose was to elevate Friday sales numbers when Roman Catholics were abstaining from meat. It was an instant hit and rolled out nationally two years later.

1968: the Big Mac



The famous Big Mac burger landed in 1968, developed by Jim Delligatti, owner and operator of the Pittsburgh restaurant. The Big Mac is made with two beef patties, special sauce (a variant of Thousand Island dressing), iceberg lettuce, American cheese, pickles and onions, served in a three-part sesame seed bun. Today, the burger is still one of the company’s best sellers, with roughly 28 sold globally per second.

1969: golden arches



In 1969, McDonald's changed its logo to the iconic red-and-yellow golden arches or 'M' the world recognises today. The colours were chosen because psychologists believe red stimulates appetite and we associate yellow with happiness. The same year also saw a massive remodelling of the restaurants.

1973: Quarter Pounder



The Quarter Pounder and the Quarter Pounder with Cheese were added to the menu in 1973 and have stood the test of time. The burger is marketed towards those looking to enjoy a less processed meal. These days, it's one of few burgers to use fresh, unfrozen beef.

1975: Egg McMuffin



Egg McMuffins were added to the national menu in 1975 after being created by Herb Peterson, who owned and operated the Santa Barbara McDonald’s in California. He modelled the sandwich on his favourite breakfast dish, eggs Benedict. By 1976, McDonald's had perfected its whole breakfast menu. McDonald's breakfast fans take note – the Egg McMuffin is the only option to use freshly cracked eggs.

1975: Dawn of the drive-thru

<p>Jonathan Weiss/Shutterstock</p>

Jonathan Weiss/Shutterstock

Sierra Vista, Arizona, was the first location of a McDonald’s drive-thru. It opened in 1975 because soldiers from the nearby Fort Huachuca weren’t allowed to get out of their cars in army uniform. McDonald’s solved the problem and the first proved so successful, drive-thrus soon opened in Georgia and Oklahoma City. It wasn’t long before the format was incorporated at many other stores.

1979: Happy Meals



The Happy Meal was added to menus across the US in 1979. These meals originally had a circus wagon theme and came with the standard hamburger or cheeseburger, French fries, cookies, a soft drink and, of course, a toy. Over the years McDonald's has given away Beanie Babies, Pokémon figures, Disney stickers and Lego toys. In fact, in 2011, McDonald's was said to be the world's largest distributor of toys.

1983: Chicken McNuggets

<p>Lenscap Photography/Shutterstock</p>

Lenscap Photography/Shutterstock

McNuggets and dipping sauce were added to US menus in 1983, and their huge popularity meant McDonald's took special measures to prevent them running out. Over the years there's been controversy over what goes into McNuggets, agitated by a viral video of 'pink slime', however McDonald's insists they're nothing but 100% chicken breast.

1980: beyond burgers and fries

<p>Kambui/Wikimedia/CC BY 2.0</p>

Kambui/Wikimedia/CC BY 2.0

McDonald’s has made many attempts to expand beyond burgers and fries over the years, but they haven’t always been hugely successful. In 1980, the chain introduced the McBoat, a floating restaurant in an old-fashioned paddle steamer on the Mississippi River; it closed in 2000. In 1986, the McBarge in Canada was open for just six months. Other wacky ventures include the McPlane (pictured), a brief 1996 collaboration with Swiss air carrier Crossair and now defunct tour company Hotelplan, which saw Big Macs and Chicken McNuggets served at 35,000 feet (11km).

1987: McDonald's salads



McDonald’s decided to make salad an option in 1987, adding freshly tossed ingredients with croutons and bacon bits to the menu. In 2003, the chain added premium salads, and in 2005 salads landed on UK menus. However, they're not necessarily the healthier option – some have a higher salt and calorie content than McDonald's burgers.

2001: McCafé

<p>Air Elegant/Shutterstock</p>

Air Elegant/Shutterstock

The first McCafé opened in Australia in 1993, and the concept is still going strong across the country. It didn't come to the US until 2001, though, when it debuted at a restaurant in Oak Brook, Illinois. Customers could now enjoy the relaxed feel of a café and sip on barista-made coffee and even a slice of cake.

2011: McMakeover



The fast food giant undertook a massive store-by-store makeover from 2011 – the biggest in the company’s history – transforming it from a kids' fast food joint into a family restaurant. Out went the fibreglass tables, industrial steel chairs and neon interiors, and in came wooden tables, faux leather chairs and a more muted colour palette. Pictured here is a renovated McDonald's in Canada, 2011.

2014: self-serve kiosks



Customers who didn’t want to line up to order their meal were given another option in late 2014, when self-serve kiosks were introduced. The new technology meant that, instead of ordering from a cashier, customers could use the touchscreens to place their order and pay before picking it up from the counter.

2014: Create Your Taste



With the rollout of self-serve kiosks in 2014, there was a new campaign called Create Your Taste. This meant customers could build their own burger from more than 30 premium ingredients, buns and sauces. Ingredients on offer included caramelised grilled onions, chilli lime tortilla strips, guacamole and jalapeños. However, it slowed down operations and customers complained it was too expensive. It ended in 2016.

2015: all day breakfast

<p>Grzegorz Czapski/Shutterstock</p>

Grzegorz Czapski/Shutterstock

For years, McDonald's customers anguished at not being able to order from the breakfast menu after 10.30am. Finally, in 2015, the company listened to customers’ pleas. A limited all-day breakfast menu is now offered in certain stores and in the US includes Egg McMuffins, sausage biscuits with egg, hash browns and Hotcakes. Perfect if you're wanting a cheeseburger with a side of sausage McMuffin.

2015: home delivery

<p>shanid chirammal/Shutterstock</p>

shanid chirammal/Shutterstock

The ultimate game changer was McDonald’s delivery via UberEats, keeping McDonald's competitive with fast food delivery services such as Grubhub (in the US) and Deliveroo (in the UK). The company offered the service for years in Indonesia, but it wasn’t until 2015 it launched in New York, and 2017 in the UK.

2016: table service



In 2016 McDonald's introduced table service to some restaurants, a service whereby customers order at the counter or self-service kiosk and waiters deliver it to the table. Its intention was to compete with more upmarket rivals such as Five Guys and Shake Shack.

2016: new decor



Building on the makeover in 2011, McDonald’s continued to change its image and restaurant interiors in 2016. Six modern new designs were born: Allegro, Craft, Simply Modern, Fresh and Vibrant, Form and Living Room. They were contemporary and colourful with bold graphics and easy-to-read digital menu boards.

2017: mobile order and pay

<p>Ricky Of The World/Shutterstock</p>

Ricky Of The World/Shutterstock

In 2017 McDonald’s began testing mobile ordering and payments in selected US restaurants. By the end of the year, it was rolled out across the US, Canada, the UK, France, Germany, Australia and China. The ordering service means customers are able to order food and pay via their phone, before picking it up from the restaurant or having it delivered.

2017: digital drive-thru



McDonald’s has even made its drive-thru menu boards digital. These boards change throughout the day to show customers the most timely and relevant deals and menu items. It also rolled out double-lane drive-thrus to make the experience speedier. Very different to the days where there were paper menus that carhop waitresses offered through the car window.

2019: sleek new style



At the end of 2018, McDonald’s revealed plans to invest $6 billion (around £4.7bn) on modernising 14,000 restaurants before 2020. The sleek new designs are called Alphabet 1, Alphabet 2, Wood & Stone, Ray and Natural Integrity. The minimalist black, white and wooden colour palette is a contrast to bright and bold colour schemes in the past and is perfect for McDonald's in the digital era.

2023: a new take on McDonald's

<p>Courtesy of CosMc's</p>

Courtesy of CosMc's

Early in 2023, McDonald's unveiled plans to open a retro space-themed restaurant called CosMc’s, inspired by (and named after) an alien mascot that appeared in its adverts more than 30 years ago. After months of speculation of what the secretive new restaurant might be like, the first branch was finally unveiled in Bolingbrook, Illinois, at the end of the year, with fast food fans waiting in line for hours to see what CosMc's is all about. By the end of 2024, McDonald's plans to have 10 operational stores, including nine in Texas.

2023: all-day breakfast?

<p>Courtesy of CosMc's</p>

Courtesy of CosMc's

CosMc's seems to have been positioned as a rival to popular coffee chains like Starbucks, offering an extension of the existing McCafe range. The menu is packed with adventurous-sounding creations like the Popping Pear Slush, Churro Frappe and Spicy Queso Sandwich, alongside classic McDonald's breakfast options like the Egg McMuffin and hash browns – which are, excitingly, expected to be sold all day. The name for the new brand comes from CosMc, a loveable, six-armed alien mascot who featured in adverts in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

2023: in search of burger perfection

<p>KULLAPONG PARCHERAT/Shutterstock</p>


Aside from limited-edition specials and regional variations, you can usually rely on McDonald's classic burgers to taste a certain way. In fact, we bet McDonald's fans could easily identify a Big Mac or other menu mainstay while blindfolded. But all that changed in spring 2023, when the chain announced some pretty major upgrades to its most legendary recipes, to improve the buns, cheese and even how its patties are cooked. The changes (there are 50 in total) were initially trialled in McDonald's locations in Australia, Canada and Belgium, before slowly rolled out in the USA.

2024: meltier cheese and more sauce

<p>Courtesy of McDonald's</p>

Courtesy of McDonald's

The upgrades include cooking the beef patties in smaller batches of six (instead of eight, as they have traditionally been done) to give them a crispier and more consistent sear. Several iconic items, including the Big Mac and classic Cheeseburger, will boast softer brioche buns with sesame seeds that are toasted until golden brown. The finished burgers will also have fresher lettuce and pickles and ‘hotter, meltier cheese’, while the quintessential Big Mac will be loaded with even more sauce. The changes were implemented in the UK in March 2024, with a global rollout on the way.

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