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The “Happy Meal” has served as a beam of sunshine in the childhoods of millions of kids around the world for nearly forty years. The original idea for the Happy Meal may have been born in the Central American nation of Guatemala when a McDonald's operator named Yolanda Fernandez de Cofiño began offering combinations of products which she called a “Menu Ronald.” She came up with the idea to allow a more efficient way for parents to feed their children. A “Menu Ronald” included a hamburger, French fries, and a sundae. It was, of course, named after the iconic symbol of McDonald’s - Ronald McDonald. De Cofiño’s innovative idea eventually made its way to product developer Bob Bernstein who turned the Happy Meal into a McDonald's staple and worldwide sensation.


The first Happy Meal was released in 1979. The box was themed after a circus wagon. It came with a cheeseburger or hamburger, French fries, a drink, a bag of cookies, and of course, a surprise toy. The box included jokes, mazes, comics, and word games. McDonald's quickly learned, however, that it wasn’t the food that drove sales – it was the prize. At first, the prizes were limited to spinning tops, stencils, magic tricks, and other trinkets. In the 1980s, however, McDonald's began forging strategic partnerships with toy and motion picture companies to include better prizes, and more importantly, prizes that were part of larger collections. In this way, for kids to collect an entire set of prizes, parents would have to repeatedly visit McDonald's and continue to buy Happy Meals so their children could collect them all. Soon, Star Trek, Hot Wheels, and Barbie Doll prizes came with Happy Meals. In the 1990s, McDonald's began offering Beanie Babies in Happy Meals, which launched a new generation of Happy Meal lovers – both children and adults! Today, such Beanie Babies packaged in McDonald’s Happy Meals enjoy a cult following and can sell for hundreds or even thousands of dollars.


Happy Meals began to fall out of favor in the early 2000s as people began demanding healthier food options for their children. No longer would people ignore the fact that the food within Happy Meals was unhealthy just so they could score a precious collectible. McDonald’s responded by offering low-fat milk or apple juice instead of soft drinks, and apple slices instead of cookies. McDonald’s efforts to make healthier food for children seems to have paid off. It recently struck a deal with Disney to include one of eight different action figures from the Incredibles 2 movie in its Happy Meals.