Food & Nutrition

How the McDonald’s Happy Meal Has Changed Over the Years

This fast food icon has endured some major twists and turns, and the journey isn’t over yet!

At first, you could order only the toy

How The McDonald’s Happy Meal Has Changed Over the Yearsclaudio zaccherini/Shutterstock

Before the Happy Meal, there was the “Treat of the Week.” While the Happy Meal didn’t make a full appearance until the late ’70s, McDonald’s locations in Canada were already focused on what kids love best: toys! Each week, McDonald’s offered a different toy by request to their young diners, called “Treat of the Week.” Little did these clever innovators know that 50 years later, McDonald’s would be distributing 1.5 billion toys each year. Here are 11 surprising McDonald’s menu items you won’t find today.

It used to be called “Menu Ronald”

How The McDonald’s Happy Meal Has Changed Over the YearsRatana21/Shutterstock

Although a man named Dick Brams in St. Louis is often credited with the original design of the Happy Meal, the real origin comes from a little farther south—Guatemala, to be exact. Yolanda Fernanández de Cofiño was a Chilean woman who married José María Cofiño, owner of all the McDonald’s franchises in Guatemala. Yolanda created her signature meal package for children, “Menu Ronald,” in the mid-1970s, which included a hamburger, small fries, and a sundae. Learn how to make famous McDonald’s menu items at home.

The packaging was inspired by cereal boxes

How The McDonald’s Happy Meal Has Changed Over the YearsPhotofusion/Shutterstock

After hearing about de Cofiño’s “Menu Ronald,” McDonald’s commissioned advertiser Robert Bernstein to design a similar item for its American stores. Robert modeled the boxes after a lunch pail, with the golden arches as handles. Drawing inspiration from watching his son interact with the games and puzzles on the breakfast cereal box, Bob hired children’s illustrators to create panels of interactive games, jokes, and comics for the Happy Meal. In 1979, the Circus Wagon Box made its first appearance, packed with a cheeseburger or hamburger with fries, cookies, a drink, and a small toy. Happy Meals aren’t the only thing that has changed over the years. Find out what the McDonald’s menu looked like the year you were born!

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