McDonald's Image Makeover Is A Work In Progress

Ronald McDonald may be almost as well known as Santa Claus among preschoolers, but McDonald's image has tarnished significantly since Morgan Spurlock's 2004 documentary Super Size Me highlighted the ways in which the chain could be blamed for our country's growing obesity problem.

McDonald's image as a purveyor of junk food has led to rapidly declining sales in recent years as growing numbers of customers seek out restaurants offering healthier and higher quality options. To boost sluggish sales, company executives have made several alterations to the standard menu. For breakfast, McDonald's has introduced the option to substitute egg whites for whole eggs in its breakfast sandwiches. Customers can also choose to order a salad instead of fries in combo meals, and mandarin oranges will soon be a side option for children seeking a better alternative to Happy Meal fries. Since 2013, water, juice, and milk have been the only advertised beverage options for Happy Meals.

McDonald's recently hosted a promotional dinner that featured professional chefs making gourmet cuisine from McDonald's menu items. For example, a Kung Pao chicken appetizer was made using a base of Chicken McNuggets covered in sweet and sour sauce and garnished with parsley. Oddly enough, the dinner wasn't part of plans to announce any new McDonald's menu items. It was simply a chance for McDonald's to reach out to members of the media in hopes of gaining favorable press.

Those charged with revamping McDonald's image face a difficult task in balancing the desire for more nutritious fare with a need to keep prices low. McDonald's Fruit & Walnut Salad looked promising when it was first introduced, but this item was discontinued last year when customers complained that the $5 price was too high. The Dollar Menu, known as the Dollar Menu & More, still contains some of the chain's most popular offerings. Many have speculated that McDonald's faces an uphill battle because people who can afford to pay more have a long established history of moving on to fast-casual restaurants like Panera and Chipotle.

In the meantime, how can you eat healthy at McDonald's? Most experts say it's best to avoid larger signature sandwiches like the Double Quarter Pounder and Big Mac in favor of a regular hamburger that has just 250 calories, 9 g of fat and 520 mg of sodium. Instead of fries, order Apple Dippers with low-fat caramel dip or a side salad. If you prefer chicken over beef, the Grilled Honey Mustard Snack Wrap for 260 calories, 9 g fat and 800 mg sodium is your best bet. Other menu options under 400 calories can be found on the McDonald's website's healthy eating section.

[Photo courtesy of David Schott via Flickr.]