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McDonald's seeding fruit options

McDonald's seems to be having a McFruity moment.

After years of criticism from advocates who urged the burger giant to offer more fruits and veggies for kids in its Happy Meals, the chain is about to do just that.

Cuties clementines from Sun Pacific will be added as a seasonal fruit option this fall; "junior" bananas are being tested and even blueberries are under consideration as a future option, reveals Greg Watson, senior vice president of menu innovation, in an interview with USA TODAY.

"This is consistent with what we've said we'd do," said Watson. "This is part of the journey we started four years ago to make Mom feel better about Happy Meals."

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McDonald's increasingly is looking at whole fruits that would rotate according to season. That require less labor and packaging than the current apple slices, which have been a huge hit with more than 1.1 billion packages sold since 2012.

For McDonald's, it's about concocting Happy Meals that appeal both to kids and their parents. It's also a response to health advocates, nutritionists and lawmakers pushing for improved food and beverage offerings that target kids.

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"It's potentially a big deal, as long as parents order—and kids eat—the fruit," says Hope Warshaw, a dietitian and author of The Guide to Healthy Restaurant Eating. "Due to the sheer volume of Happy Meals that McDonald's serves, little changes can make big impacts on the health of American children."

Cuties—seedless clementines that are easy to peel—were tested at 100 restaurants around Austin for about 12 weeks. "The feedback was overwhelmingly positive," says Watson.

McDonald's also is testing "junior" bananas, supplied by Chiquita, in the Austin market. They are smaller than conventional bananas, at about 5.5 to 7 inches, to fit in a kid's hand. Blueberries and grapes in Happy Meals are both under future consideration, with grapes already having had some success in Europe, says Watson.

Read MoreWhat is the state of the consumer?

The fruit won't be limited to Happy Meals—or to kids. It also will be sold individually, says Watson. In the test, Cuties were sold for 50 cents.

Last month, McDonald's added a 50-calorie version of Go-Gurt Low-Fat Strawberry Yogurt as a Happy Meal side option. Made for McDonald's by General Mills, it has 25 percent less sugar — about 6 grams — than conventional Yoplait Go-Gurt,

But vegetables are a different story. McDonald's can't seem to find one kids will happily eat. "It's much more challenging to come up with vegetables that kids will be excited about," says Watson.

Read MoreBurger King brings back fan favorite

A trial of baby carrots several years ago flopped—even when it shaped them like characters.

Of course, it hasn't yet tried carrot fries.

—By Bruce Horovitz, USA Today

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