McDonald's is attempting to fix the reason parents hate taking their kids there

McDonald's fitness trackerMcDonald’s CanadaMcDonald’s Step-It fitness trackers

McDonald’s has an unexpected addition to its Happy Meals: fitness trackers.

The fast-food giant is swapping out the traditional Happy Meal toy for a Step-It fitness tracker for a limited time in the US and Canada, reports USA Today.

The fitness trackers are part of a larger goal at McDonald’s to project a healthier image. The chain has been making changes such as swapping margarine for butter, iceberg lettuce for more colourful vegetables, and testing menu items such a kale salad.

“A lot of people have assumptions about what McDonald’s food is,” McDonald’s corporate chef Jessica Foust told Business Insider in July. “The industry in general is challenged because there’s a stigma in general about what [quick-service restaurant] food is, and that is very very unfortunate. Personally, I don’t think that helps people eat well.”

The Happy Meal has long been a point of contention at McDonald’s. Critics of the chain has pointed to the meal, complete with a toy, as evidence of McDonald’s plot to make fattening meals more appealing, playing a role in increasing childhood obesity rates.

Many modern parents are wary of feeding their kids food from McDonald’s, Goldman Sachs analysts wrote in a report last year, noting that Starbucks is gaining an advantage.

“Starbucks is virtually the only large incumbent that can offer millennial parents the convenience of a (fast food chain) and food they would not feel guilty/embarrassed to feed to their kids,” Goldman Sachs’ analysts wrote at the time.

In 2004, McDonald’s added apples as an option for kids’ meals. After realising the choice between apples and french fries was causing conflict between kids and parents, in 2011, the chain adjusted the meal to include both apples and (fewer) fries.

Adding fitness trackers to Happy Meals for a limited time isn’t a long-term change, like adding apples to the menu. However, it represents a new mentality at the chain — that if McDonald’s wants to succeed, it needs to do better when it comes to health.

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