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You know the old saying about eating an apple daily and its purported powers as preventative medicine. This seems to be the idea behind McDonald’s revamped Happy Meals, unveiled with some fanfare at D.C.-area locations on Friday.

The kiddie-sized burger-and-fries combo now comes with a quarter cup of “fresh cut orchard grown” apple slices in every red and yellow box.

Bolstering Mickey D’s healthier claims, the new and improved Happy Meal also forgoes the sticky sweet caramel dipping sauce that has usually accompanied the pieces of fruit since the fast-food chain first unveiled apple slices as a side dish back in 2004.

I was quite skeptical of these McApples, as we’ll call ’em, when I sampled a few slices at the grand unveiling event on Friday. Freshness and taste are always suspect when it comes to pre-sliced, prepackaged produce like this. I expected the same mushy, slippery, flavorless sort of fruit you’d find in the typical public school cafeteria. Not at this carefully staged event. The first skinless slice was surprisingly crisp, a little sweet, a little tart, too, with no lingering aftertaste—and only minimally slimy.

One thing that bothered me: the bone-white fruit developed no trace of brown even after several minutes of exposure to oxygen.

I asked McDonald’s corporate dietician, Shaye Arluk, how the chain could guarantee the freshness of a mass-produced sliced fruit that normally turns the color of dung once its opened.

For one thing, it turns out that the fresh-cut slices get a fresh shot of calcium ascorbate (a blend of calcium and vitamin C) to keep them from browning.

Arluk says the apples, mostly grown in Michigan, have a shelf-life of 14 days after hopping from “refrigerator to refrigerator” en route to your local McDonald’s. New shipments arrive three times a week to replenish the stocks, she says.

The addition of the four to five apple slices per box comes with a significant reduction in the girth of the Happy Meal-sized french fries.  Arluk emphasizes the equally significant drop in calories from 520 to 410 in a given McNugget Happy Meal. Each serving of apples adds only 15 calories.

So why not drop the fries altogether? Maybe offer a salad. Or some carrot sticks. Heck, why not scrap the burger and nuggets for a turkey wrap or something?

Total buzzkill, Arluk says. Kids expect burgers and fries.

The apples may be pushing the nutritional envelope enough.

To wit: during the event, I asked one preschooler of his impressions of the new Happy Meal. He nodded his head in approval. Then I asked about the apples. He simply wrinkled his nose and went back to gnawing on his McNugget.

Photo by Stephanie Meyer