Travels with Children

The adventures I embark upon with my four young children.

How Long Has This Been Going On?

OK, I’ll admit it.  When I’m out on adventures with the kids, we sometimes (gasp!) eat at McDonald’s.

We have a pretty standard order, and it’s usually in the same ballpark price-wise.  Today I was surprised at the price, and since my husband was along, I actually had time to look at the receipt in detail.  I was shocked and disappointed when I went back to the counter to question the manager.

My order for the kids was this:

  • 1 Hamburger Happy Meal, French Fries, Chocolate Milk, menu price $2.60.
  • 2 Chicken Nuggets Happy Meal, French Fries, Chocolate Milk, menu price $3.20.
  • 1 Chicken Nuggets Happy Meal, Apples, Chocolate Milk, menu price $3.20.

But on the receipt it looked like this.

  • 1 4NUG/AD HPY ML TOY $2.30
  • 1 HAMB/FRY HPY ML TOY $1.70
  • 2 4NUG/FRY HPY ML TOY $4.60
  • 4 CHOCOLATE MILK $5.80

These receipts have never been the easiest to decipher, which is probably why I didn’t figure this out sooner.

The “$5.80” is what caught my eye, so I broke it down, and found that I was paying $1.45 per milk above the Happy Meal price on the receipt.  This brought the Hamburger Happy Meal to $3.15 and the Chicken Nuggets to $3.75.  Each Happy Meal was $.55 more than the price in the menu.

I went to the counter and asked the manager about it.  I was directed to the “prices may vary” asterisk by the Happy Meal options and informed that the milk costs more than the pop does, so the Happy Meal with milk does as well.  (The asterisk was next to the french fry/apple dippers choice as well, but they cost the same, at least at this particular restaurant.)

I’ve been ordering milk with Happy Meals as long as I’ve had kids eating solid foods, which is about 7 years now, and this is the first time I’ve noticed that the milk cost more.  When my oldest was a toddler, the Happy Meals only cost $.10 more than the All-American meal (hamburger, small fries, tiny drink) so I would splurge and spend the dime to get him the little toy.  As my life got more hectic, I didn’t pay as much attention to the prices because I was just trying to get everyone fed and out of the restaurant in a well-behaved manner.  How long has this been going on?

What’s your experience with kids’ meals?  Do the healthier options cost more at other restaurants (fast-food or sit-down) as well?  I’m feeling really foolish right now and would love any insight you might have.

And, yes, next time I go in to McDonald’s, I’ll be pricing out the following: 1 hamburger, 3 4-pc. Chicken Nuggets, 1 medium or large fries, and 4 waters, to see how much these Happy Meals have really been costing me.



  Jessica wrote @

I think the healthier options always cost more at other restaurants too and I don’t think it just applies to the kids’ meal choices. With that said, I think McDonald’s could be more transparent about it and say that yes, indeed, the healthier choices cost more. Then at least people would be comfortable with the idea (relatively speaking) rather than feeling duped after the fact.

Don’t feel foolish – the thing that matters most is that you are making healthier choices for your kiddos and there’s nothing foolish about that.

  texasholly @ June Cleaver Nirvana wrote @

That is crazy. I have never noticed it either and I always have 3 different milks each time we go. I am going to watch next time more closely!

  BookMama wrote @

I admit that we never get the apple dippers or juice when the kids get Happy Meals, LOL.

But Tim and I have started getting items “a la carte” sometimes instead of getting Happy Meals and value meals. So, if your pricing is the same as in area, it would be $1 each for the burger and 4 pc nuggets, then about $1.50 for a medium order of fries.

So $5.50 to feed all your kids if they drink water.

  Connie @ Young and Relentless wrote @

I just decided this week to stop getting the Happy Meals. It is less expensive and I think they eat less when I buy the items separately. Plus, I just threw out a bunch of stupid toys that they were not even playing with!

  courtneyluv75 wrote @

And, have you noticed the restaraunts have different prices? I went to one McDonalds on the south end of town and another on the north end of town, bought the same meals and had two different totals. Also, right now they have $1 sodas. You can upgrade the kids meal soda to the $1 soda and it’s not that much more. I did that and shared a sweet tea with my daughter!

  Sandra wrote @

Our favorite fast food place is Chick-fil-A and we have to pay more there to get milk and the fruit cup. On Tues. nights the kids’ meals are free with the purchase of a combo but we still have to pay the extra fee to get the fruit cup. Now that I have to eating kids’ meals we are thinking more about the rising prices!

  Sarah wrote @

We don’t get charged more for the milk here (Kansas). Didn’t get charged extra in Indiana, or any other McDonald’s between here and there.

  Michelle wrote @

Wow, I’ve never really looked. We don’t do McD’s often b/c I HATE McD’s (except at bkfst), but we do Wendy’s a bit too often. 😉 We always get the mandarin oranges and milk. I’ll have to check my receipt out next time.

To courtneyluv75 – Yes, the prices DEFINITELY vary around town. A steak bagel (bkfst) at our nearest McD’s is $3.49, but it’s $2.99 at the other 3 McD’s within 5 or so miles of us! (And how sad is it that we have at least 4 McD’s within 5 miles of us? If only there were so many healthy options!)

~ Michelle (MotherNatureMI on twitter)

  Christina @ Northern Cheapskate wrote @

Oh, there’s lots of sneakiness. Don’t forget, you’re charged an eat-in tax, too!

What irritates me most is that If I wanted to get a chicken sandwich, a SMALL fry, and a SMALL soda, it would cost me MORE than if I just got the extra value meal. I’ve repeatedly asked McDonalds to give me the value meal price and just give me less food (I don’t want the tempation!) but they refuse to. It’s ridiculous!

  minnemom wrote @

Wow, this really hit a nerve!

Andrea, you’re right about some of the a la carte prices. The 10 pc McNuggets were $4 on the menu today. Value menu had 4pc for $1. Even I figured out the math on that one!

I think it has gotten sneakier in the past several years as well. For quite a while, when you bought a value meal, you were basically paying for the sandwich and fries and getting the drink free. Not so any more.

Jessica, I agree that I’d rather see it up front and make an informed decision. At Subway, the kids’ meals are a decent value, and they don’t charge you more for the apples in the meal even though the cost more than the raisins a la carte. At Subway, the milks are HUGE, and even with the $5 footlongs it comes out pretty close to the kids’ meal prices as opposed to a la carte. At least last time I checked…

Texasholly, check it out next time you’re at McD’s and post back here, if you don’t mind. I’m wondering how regional this is.

courtneyluv75, there’s definitely a difference between restaurants. Hibbing’s Happy Meals were about $.50 cheaper than Hinckley’s this weekend. (Yes, we were at 2 McD’s in four days. Such is life sometimes.)

Sandra, interesting about the Chik Fil A upgrade fee even on free nights!

Michelle, let us know about Wendy’s if you have time to “research” it. Our closest Wendy’s (35 miles, if you call that close) closed last year.

Christina, I’d never noticed the eat-in tax before. Is it tax free for to-go or drive-through? In Ohio, there’s some trick with getting a drink or ordering water that affects the tax, or so I’ve been told.

What surprises me the most is that our total today for the six of us was $23.75. Four Happy Meals, one Big Mac combo, one Big Mac. If we eat at Famous Dave’s, which we love, before 5 p.m., we all get more than enough food, with free drink refills including milk (at most locations, some charge for the refill) for just a few dollars more than that, including tip. Fast food certainly doesn’t mean cheap food any more.

Gone are the days of the $.59 hamburgers and the reusable cup with $.25 refills that I used for three years of college (in the 90’s, not really that long ago).

Any more thoughts? Keep ’em coming!

  Kacey wrote @

You’re right that fast food is no longer cheap food. My kids are college age now (5 boys) it is SO expensive to take them to McDonalds when we do road trips. I don’t like McDonald’s food anyway. I think I got burned out on it either when I worked there in high school, or went a bazillion times when the kids were little.

The thing that is really irritating though is that they aren’t upfront with their pricing! I don’t like to think that hard to place an order!

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