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.

  • shamrock

    Just 10 cents!! What a joke Mac ! You do have a workaround, don’t ya ?

  • Vince

    When I was a kid growing up in San Francisco in the 1970s, McDonald’s was banned from the city. There was one in Pacifica and one in Novato. Back then we didn’t have obesity epidemic and ADHD. San Francisco should dip into it’s old playbook, show some leadership, and boot the slime balls out of the city.

  • AK

    I know many will probably disagree, but I resent this government intrusion. We all have a choice to make, and I don’t see it as the government’s duty to force our dietary choices – we have free will and should be accepting the responsibility and consequences of our actions. Allowing this to happen on a local level now will only lead to further inroads of the government controlling what we all eat. I prefer organic, I see a nutritionist regularly and I’m taking control of my bad habits to improve myself, my health and my way of eating, but there’s no way we can guarantee that what the government decides will align with our personal values.
    Just my opinion.

  • Ben

    The government is forcing Restaurants to make children’s offerings healthier. Sounds a little bit wired to me, as I don’t think there are many parents out there they can afford to feed their children’s 3-4 meals a day in a restaurant. What is with healthy meals in schools or where it starts at home? If you eat one meal a week in a fast-food chain restaurant does it really makes a difference? Children’s are fed for breakfast with GMO Cereals, soft drinks all day long, loaded with sugar and chemicals, how about the dinner? Where is the common sense in this whole discussion?

  • Obesity isn’t an individual problem. The increasing obesity of our populace puts a strain on healthcare resources, and it puts a strain on local, state, and the federal government resources.
    The government can’t create a law against obesity, but it can attempt to ensure that unhealthy food isn’t marketed to kids, which was the purpose of this law.
    Governments can prohibit cigarette sales and alcohol sales to minors, too. Are you against these rules?

  • Go Blue!

    Freedom of choice I say. I have 3 kids, and we rarely eat at McDonald’s, but when we do 7 or 8 times out of 10 they get the apples instead of the fries, and they always get the milk. Guess who’s decision it is, mine. My kids don’t twist my arm or coerce me into buying them anything they want. Parents need to take a stand against their kids, not the local governments.

  • We have to stop four year olds from going to McDonalds twenty times a week without their parents!
    This has nothing to do with health or obesity. California is forty out of fifty states in obesity indices and I suspect San Francisco is better than the state average. It is simply irrational hatred of McDonalds by San Francisco politicians. If the kids were eating sustainable, grass fed beef raised by Zen Buddhists in Marin, they would all be receiving medals.

  • Ben

    What gives you the idea the increasing obesity is caused by a McDonald meal? What do the kids get a home? GMO stuff? Chips and soft drinks? Meat is not unhealthy and french fries neither. If kids would eat more meat and vegetables like potatoes they wouldn’t grave all day long for sugary stuff with chemicals in it that makes them fat.
    I’m not against the rules prohibiting selling tobacco and alcohol to minors. Here is the fact of smoking despite all the government regulations:
    Are you recommending outlawing selling to a minor a hamburger at all or in the supermarket milk with regular milk fat? When are you going to outlaw selling all sweets and GMO food to minors?
    Peter: you say we have to stop four year olds from going to McDonalds twenty times a week without their parents! We don’t have to stop them. The parents have to do this. Only rich parents can afford to give their kids so much money they can afford to eat twenty times a week at McDonalds. The police may be able to stop four year olds being on the street without attendance.

  • Lee

    Gotta love California politics. Im surprised that they dont require McDonalds to put a warning label on their happy meals. Might look something like this: “After extensive research it has been determined that in the state of
    California nearly 100% of fat people have consumed a happy meal at some point in their lives”
    It would be accurate enough and might scare a 6 year old.
    Comparing happy meals to cigarettes and alcohol is possibly the most assanine liberal statement I have heard in months. The purpose of a democracy is to allow its people to live their lives as they see fit. Now, go make your own smart choices and leave the companies who use financially sound marketing strategies alone.