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4 Fast-Food Marketing Tactics Parents Can Adapt to Improve Kids’ Health

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Fast food marketing strategies are generally geared at one thing only: bolstering their bottom line. But some business moves by fast-food conglomerates can be replicated by companies that provide healthy food to increase sales, or by parents to encourage kids to eat better.

1. What Would Batman Eat?

Children who see photos of Batman and other superheroes eating healthier foods are significantly more likely to follow in their lead.

Researchers at Cornell Food & Brand Lab observed that while 9 percent of children instinctively opted for fries over apples, after seeing an image of Batman or a role model eating the apples, they chose the fresh fruit option.

Researchers concluded that parents could be rescued by superheroes in their daily battle to get kids to eat healthier. Simply invoking the name of their kids’ favorite superhero or idol could help them while urging kids to eat fresh vegetables or fruit.

2. Lower Calorie Happy Meals

McDonald’s new Happy Meals now contain a smaller serving of French fries, as well as additional drink options of non-fat chocolate milk and 1 percent-fat white milk. The Happy Meal main course choices remain consistent: four chicken nuggets, a hamburger or a cheeseburger. But the change in side items has cut the total calorie intake by 104 calories per meal, researchers say.

The takeaway for parents is that small changes in kids’ default foods can make a difference in reducing calories and improving their overall nutrition, as long as an indulgence is still part of the meal. Researchers also noted that balancing a meal with smaller portions and at least one fresh vegetable or fruit option could reduce the likelihood of children developing a habit of reactance or overeating.

Parents can mimic this strategy at home.

3. Satisfries

Burger King’s new Satisfries contain 30 percent less fat and 20 percent fewer calories than BK's classic fries—and 40 percent less fat and 30 percent fewer calories than McDonald's fries.

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The crinkle-cut fries, which debuted across North American in fall 2013, cost 20 cents to 30 cents more per serving—excluding Kids Meals, where they will cost the same as classic fries.

Satisfry’s secret is in the batter, which absorbs less oil, the chain says.

A small serving of BK's Satisfries tallies 270 calories and 11 grams of fat, whereas the same portion of classic fries weighs in at 340 calories and 15 grams of fat.

"It's not realistic to ask people to replace french fries with carrots or celery sticks," Keri Gans, a registered dietitian hired by Burger King, told USA Today. "This is like meeting people halfway."

While BK’s new lower-calorie french fries didn't attract customers in droves, they did bump up sales ever so slightly, when competitors’ sales are down.

Satisfries and the Big King burger contributed to a 0.2 percent sales increase at established locations, reported the Miami Herald.

Companies can similary find ways to cut calories while boosting sales. And parents, who always have a few tricks up their sleeves, can sneak in some healthy substitutes into kids' meals at home.

4. Super-Size Me

Health food makers are taking a page from fast-food chains, which started the super-size trend.

The allure of super-sizing—whether healthy or not—is very powerful, reported

Vanderbilt marketing researchers found consumers are similarly prone to buy healthy foods in bulk if they feel like they're saving money.

"Consumers are very attracted to deals in general and saving money per unit is very appealing to us, even when the deal is a larger bag of baby carrots," researcher Kelly L. Haws said in a statement.