Starting today, chain restaurants in San Francisco will no longer be able to give away toys with kids’ meals that are high in fat, salt and sugar. The goal is to push fast-food establishments to make children’s offerings healthier. 

In response, McDonald’s has decided to serve plastic playthings without changing its Happy Meals in San Francisco – offering the toys for an extra 10 cents. 

The controversial Healthy Food Incentives Ordinance, approved by the city’s Board of Supervisors, was initially vetoed by then-Mayor Gavin Newsom. Under the regulation, restaurants that provide free toys with their childrens meals must meet stringent nutritional standards. 

But McDonald’s restaurants in the city will now charge a small fee for its toys – and donate the proceeds to charity.

Specifically, the money will go toward building a new Ronald McDonald House that will provide temporary housing for families at the new University of California San Francisco Hospital.

Consumer advocates roundly criticized McDonald’s move.

“McDonald’s decision to start charging 10 cents to have toys added to Happy Meals in San Francisco is a brazen and cynical attempt to circumvent the city’s law to encourage healthier children’s meals,” said Margo Wootan, nutrition policy director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.  “It’s duplicitous for McDonald’s to claim that the toy was ever free — the cost of the toy has always been built into the cost of the meal.”

Scott Rodrick, owner of 10 of the city’s 19 McDonald’s franchises, defended the company’s choice.

“This is not what my customers asked for, but the law’s the law,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle

Rodrick says that consumer demand and consultations with nutritionists – not government – will drive the company’s shift toward healthier options for children, according to the Chronicle. 

But Eric Mar, a Supervisor and chief sponsor of the ordinance, says he thinks government can help push fast-food companies along the right track. 

“McDonald’s and the others are gradually moving on the direction we want,” Mar said. “But I think that we in San Francisco, and Santa Clara County before us, are making them move more quickly than they would have otherwise. But there’s still a long way to go.”

McDonald’s outlets outside the city limits will continue to provide free toys with Happy Meals.