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The McDonald’s Happy Meal Has Guatemala Roots, How Did It Make It To The World Stage?

The McDonald’s Happy Meal has gone on to become a favorite of kids all around the world – quite literally, since McDonald’s offers the popular kids menu in more than 100 countries. It’s a childhood staple and that many kids look forward to and is often considered one of those amazing all-American inventions.

But..the Happy Meal has its roots in Guatemala where a Latina McDonald’s worker came up with the original idea for ‘Ronald’s Menu.’

The beloved Happy Meal originated in Guatemala back in the 1970s.

In the mid-1970s, Chilena Yolanda Fernández de Cofiño was living in Guatemala and owned several McDonald’s franchises along with her husband in the country. After noticing all the money being wasted on food that was being thrown away because kids couldn’t eat a full size meal, Cofiño came up with an item called a “Menu Ronald.”

Consequence of Sound writes that it was designed to “help parents feed their children with less fuss.” The meal came with a hamburger, a small fries, and a small sundae in a bag. Fernándezde Cofiño also included toys in the Cajita Feliz” that she would buy at a local market.

“We started by putting out a small hamburger, small fries and a small soda with Ronald’s little cup and an ice cream sundae. It occurred to me to buy a surprise, a little toy to make it attractive to the child,” Yolanda told Forbes Latin America in 2018.

Fernández de Cofiño creative contribution to the company was, in fact, so important that she was given the McDonald’s “Ronald award” in 1982, in recognition of her outstanding contributions to the company.

But like so many similar stories, the origin story of the Happy Meal has been white-washed.

Although Fernández de Cofiño didn’t seek permission from corporate for her Menu Ronald idea, it was nevertheless adopted by the company and rebranded as the McDonald’s Happy Meal that we know today. Of course, the company hired a white man to further develop the idea, American Dick Abrams, who to this day is largely considered the “father of the Happy Meal.”

Abrams did introduce the Golden Arches handles on the box and offered up extra entree options to the menu but it’s important to remember that a Latina helped launch the initial idea. It’s also worth pointing out that the Cajita Feliz wasn’t the only contribution Fernández de Cofiño made to the company. She’s also credited with the idea to host birthday celebrations inside McDonald’s restaurants. She came up with the idea of having specific party areas to host large groups of children at once, for which she was recognized with a second “Ronald award.”

To this day, the Happy Meal continues to evolve.

Like so many other companies, McDonald’s is reevaluating the burden it places on the global environment with its business practices. Thanks to the large amnount of plastics included in its Happy Meal, McDonald’s recently announced that they would be going plastic-free.

The goal is to reduce the use of virgin fossil fuel-based plastic in all Happy Meal toys worldwide by the end of 2025. McDonald’s said it has already reduced the use of virgin fossil fuel plastic in toys by 30% since 2018 in markets such as France, Ireland and the UK. 

It’s good to see a multinational corporation embracing a move towards better sustainability. Now, lets hope that it better embraces its heritage and helps share the story of Chilena Yolanda Fernández de Cofiño.

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