We Americans like our fast food greasy, fatty, and tasty. Restaurants like McDonald's and Wendy's have learned this the hard way.
Just about every year there's a new health food fad that rakes in big bucks. It's no wonder that fast food companies would see money flowing in that direction and think, "How can we pander to these health-conscious folks?!" Yet these attempts to lure in more customers with "healthy" options are often huge failures. Here are nine times they tried to offer us something better, only to have it bomb:
In the '90s people thought it'd be impossible to have an all-beef burger that was 91% fat-free and tasted good... and they were right. In 1991, McDonald's took a beef patty, took out all the delicious fat, and replaced it with a slurry of seaweed (carrageenan) and water. By all accounts, it tasted as good as that sounds, and yet this burger stuck around for five years before McDonald's gave up on it.
To prove that "chasing the healthy dollar" is an ongoing concern of fast food chains, Burger King brought Satisfries to the market in 2013 — making them the newest failure on this list! These crinkle-cut fries were still cooked in oil, but had 30% less fat than BK's normal fries. They were constructed in a way that wouldn't absorb as much oil. The result was a slightly denser, slightly baked-at-home taste that people found mortifrying. They stayed on Burger King's menu for less than a year.
It was 1990 and frozen yogurt was in its heyday. When taking a break from participating in eXtreeme sports and doing the Hammer Dance, folks wanted a cool treat that wasn't as bad for you as ice cream. To tap this market, Dairy Queen jumped on the froyo train and introduced the "Breeze." It was nothing more than a traditional Blizzard, but with frozen yogurt instead of ice cream. Maybe if it'd had been named after a more dynamic winter weather event, it would have stuck around longer than 10 years? "A Chocolate Squall, please!"
Wendy's Tomato Surprise
In 1985, Dave Thomas, founder of Wendy's (or, more likely, someone in the corporate marketing department), took a tomato, scooped out its innards, filled it with cottage cheese, put a slice of pineapple on top of it, dropped it onto a plate, and called it "health food." The "surprise" was that it stayed on Wendy's menu for a couple of months — which is several hundred more hours than we'd have guessed it did — before sanity returned and it was removed from the menu. Of all the items on our list, this might be the easiest to recreate at home, but we're thinking you probably won't want to.
As if to test out the old maxim that "even when pizza is bad, it's still pretty good," Pizza Hut presented the world with "The Natural" in 2008. It featured a multigrain crust and was sweetened with honey instead of high fructose corn syrup. One reviewer described it as "like eating pizza on a whole wheat pita." With a cost of about $1 more than a regular pie, it was only "natural" that it had been retired completely by 2010.
In the '80s, every restaurant thought it was a good idea to give customers unfettered access to the salad greens. Wendy's decided that one salad bar was okay, but three would be better. So it brought in one with salad stuff (bacon bits, shredded cheese, croutons), as well as a taco bar and an Italian bar (with pastas, natch). This bounty of room-temperature food lasted for about 10 years, until it was decided that providing this "health food" was too time- and cost-prohibitive. (To learn about food that's not cost-prohibitive, check out our guide on how to eat healthy for cheap.)
Though not directly marketed as "healthier," but "fresher," this one might've remained on menus longer after its mid-'80s introduction if it didn't have the habit of making people sick. What's sickening about a blend of snow crab, whitefish, and shrimp in a taco bowl? Oh right, all the poorly refrigerated fish!
Like many fast food items, this one definitely nailed the zeitgeist of the year 2000: doing everything on-the-go and pretending to be healthy, too. Purportedly portable, you pour the dressing on this salad in a drink cup, then give it a good shake. Presto: Salad you can eat while purchasing things on Pets.com! Though discontinued only 3 years later, at least it outlived the dot-com boom.
With a third entry on this list, it's getting pretty obvious that Wendy's really, really wants "healthier" fast food to catch on. It's also obvious that it keeps failing at this concept. This time, the failure comes on flatbread! In 1997, Wendy's introduced four "good for you" sandwich pitas: Garden Ranch Chicken, Chicken Caesar, Garden Veggie, and Classic Greek. By the early 2000s, they were gone, but they'll never be forgotten!
Should we conclude that we Americans want our fast food bad for us, filled with fat and salt and deliciousness? After all, when we choose to go to a fast food joint, 90% of the time it's because we want to splurge on calories. We can easily make a salad at home, but a double beef burger with bacon and onion rings is best left to the professionals.
Readers, leave a comment below telling us about your favorite "healthy" (or unhealthy) fast foods!
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