As McDonalds introduces cucumber sticks to Happy Meals, just how calorific is the fast food chain's children's menu?

McDonalds is introducing cucumber sticks to its Happy Meal menu [Photo: McDonalds]

McDonalds has announced it is adding cucumber sticks to its Happy Meal menu, so children can choose a healthier option than French fries.

The summer swap from carrot to cucumber comes after new research reveals cucumber is one of the easiest ways to up children's fruit and veg intake, with almost half of parents siting the crunchy salad stuff as a go-to when it comes to getting their kids to eat five-a-day.

Over eight in 10 parents admit they find it difficult to achieve their children's recommended portions of fruit and vegetables, with 33% of parents resorting to hiding it in meals, 21% cutting it into funny shapes and 21% bribing their children with the promise of pudding in an effort to make them eat it.

Cucumber sticks were voted among children's favourite three healthy snacks, alongside carrot sticks and cherry tomatoes, with 24% of parents naming cucumber sticks as the easiest to give their children.

The fast food chain says the introduction of cucumber sticks is part of wider initiative to offer more healthy choices to customers and follows the introduction of the first ever veggie Happy Meal earlier this year.

READ MORE: How to tell if your child has type 2 diabetes

As well as offering healthier alternatives to fries, McDonalds has also reduced the salt in a typical Happy Meal by 47% and reduced the saturated fat in its cooking oils by 83%.

By offering water and organic milk as part of a Happy Meal, now less than a quarter are sold with a sugary fizzy drink.

The company says the new meal swaps are helping to support an uptake in healthier choices from its younger customers.

In 2018: 312 million fruit, vegetable, low-fat dairy, 100% juice, and water items were served in Happy Meals, including 8.8 million Buxton pop-top waters.

What's more, the alternative melon fruit bags sold in Happy Meals and Extra Value Meals between 2016-2018 were chosen by 1.1millon customers.

Kids visiting McDonalds will be able to choose cucumber sticks as part of their Happy Meal menu [Photo: Getty]

READ MORE: Easy ways to cut your child’s sugar consumption in 2019

So how do the calories stack up?

The NHS recommends that children aged between seven and 10 have between 1,500 and 2,000 kcals a day, depending on their gender and exact age.

A small side order of fries currently weighs in at 237 kcals, but if you add a cheese burger you’re looking at a total of 538 calories.

By contrast the bag of carrot sticks, which the cucumber will replace, adds just 34 kcals to your calorie consumption, so there’s no doubt the veggie sides are a healthier option.

The new veggie Happy Meal contains just 209 kcals, in comparison.

Similarly the four chicken nuggets in a meat-eaters Happy Meal contain 173 kcals, 8.9 grams of fat, of which 1.2g are saturated.

Surprisingly, the McDonald’s Big Mac has fewer calories and less sodium than both the company’s veggie burger options, so it definitely pays to do your research if you are choosing vegetarian options for calorie-counting reasons.

Though a small step, news of McDonalds new offering will no doubt be welcomed by experts concerned about the childhood obesity crisis.

Earlier this year researchers advised that children should be weighed annually from the age of two to help prevent obesity, with the idea that future body mass index (BMI) can start to be predicted in some children when they are just a few years old.

The topic of childhood obesity has been much discussed recently.

Latest figures have revealed that unhealthy eating and a lack of exercise mean one in three pupils are now overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school.

Further stats revealed earlier this year that one in 25 children in England aged 10 or 11 are severely obese.

Measurements on children’s weight and height show the number of children classed as ‘severely overweight’ rose from 15,000 in reception to 22,000 by their final year of primary school.

Last January, Public Health England encouraged parents to count the calories in their child’s snacks.

Each year, children consume almost 400 biscuits, more than 120 cakes, 100 sweets, 70 chocolate bars and 70 ice creams, washed down with more than 150 juice drink pouches and cans of fizzy drink.

And last July experts revealed that Britain’s obesity crisis could be starting as early as birth, with some suggesting that as many as three quarters of babies are being fed too much.