The first kids’ meal at a fast food restaurant came in 1973 at an unlikely place—Burger Chef. Their “Funmeal” may have also been the first to give small toys to kids as part of these meals. But it was McDonald’s and their Happy Meal that made the trend of giving out cheap plastic to children that started an international movement. Now, kids’ meals at fast food chains are synonymous with toys of all shapes, sizes, and varieties.
Recently though, these toys have attracted criticism. Several chains, most notably Burger King, have taken heat for promoting PG-13 movies with toys in their kids’ meals, films aimed at a much older age than the typical kids' meal demographic. In California, toys are even banned from certain kids meals, due to backlash concerning fast food chains using the toys to promote unhealthy eating habits.
Of course, if you’ve ever gotten any of these kids’ meals yourself, you’d know these toys are nothing to write home about. Sometimes they aren’t even toys at all, but puzzle pieces or even terrible handled electronic games. Regardless, these toys are always cheap, made in the east with likely questionable methods, and are about as much fun to play with as watching paint dry.
Still, there has been the occasional interesting toy, and a collector’s market has sprung up around them. McDonald’s toys, in particular, are legendary for their bizarre nature, so much so that some of these they probably couldn’t get away with today.
21 Spider-Man 2 “Girls” Toys
Ah, the world of gender specific toys. Girls don’t want to play with Spider-Man (read: they shouldn’t, according to some), but we gotta have that sweet, sweet marking, so what is a fast food company to do? Take random “girls” toys like mirrors, rings, and bracelets and slap pink Spider-Man logos on them, of course!
Yes, to capitalize on The Amazing Spider-Man 2, McDonald’s rolled out this beautiful collection of pink Spider-Man memorabilia, because what girl wouldn’t want a tin can with Spider-Man just standing there on it?
20 Halloween Pails
Well, this is beyond the pail. In 1986, McDonald’s rolled out a line of cheap plastic Halloween pails, presumably for Christmas. That’s what they’re for, right? Anyway, the pails came in the standard Halloween color of orange, as well as white and green. Some of them even had black lids, what a treat!
As you’d expect, the orange ones were made to look like Jack-O-Lanterns, the greens were witches, and the white ones were ghosts. Not very imaginative, but they’re free. They’re also terrible. What kid wants an empty bucket for a toy?
19 Step It! Pedometers
Pedometers are quite possibly rip-offs, but people still swear by them. One group of people who probably couldn’t care less: children. These little things keep track of your steps to let you know how many you’ve taken, and how many calories you’ve burned doing so. An okay idea, but remember, this were meant to be toys for children.
These were part of McDonald’s initiative to show they were just peddling greasy burgers and cheap stuff to children, but it’s not much. Plus, being free with said burgers, it’s hard to imagine these things being any kind of accurate.
18 Happy Toys
The McDonald’s Happy Meal box is iconic, which probably says a lot about our society in regards to advertising and what we feed our kids. But oh look, they’ve turned them into toys!
Happy Toys are the Happy Meal boxes brought to life, doing all kinds of wacky stunts like surfing, playing guitar, and filing taxes. They’re pretty generic and don’t do much other than sit there. These feel more like a marketing gimmick aimed at collectors than an attempt at making decent toys.
17 Hello Kitty Masks
Do you like Hello Kitty? Have you ever wanted to strap the characters face to yours? Well, McDonald’s has you covered! Introducing the Hello Kitty “masks,” which are actually just really cheap plastic glasses frames with an equally cheap cutout of Hello Kitty characters on top of them. Seriously, that’s it.
Luckily for you though, there are multiple characters. As well as Hello Kitty, you’ve also go Charmmy Kitty if you love excessive Ms, Chocolat if you hate Es, and My Melody, who doesn’t have a funnily misspelled name, sadly.
16 Ronald McDonald Sunglasses
Speaking of masks that are actually glasses, take a look at these beauties. Originally sold as part of the restaurant’s “McDonalds Land” promotion, these sunglasses… I mean, just look at them. The Hamburglar, Grimace, that bird nobody knows the name of, and Ronald himself have all been twisted and mangled into ghastly shapes, their crumpled, lifeless bodies never to taste a McPizza ever again.
You could buy all four for a dollar, or get them individually as part of Happy Meals. Again, because nobody would need all four, this feels more like marketing for collectors than anything else.
15 Michael Jordan Fitness Fun
This may be hard to believe for some of the younger reads, but once upon a time, Michael Jordan was a world famous athlete, associated with hard work, winning, and selling shoes to people. These days, you may know him as the owner of one of the worst teams in the NBA (the Charlotte Hornets), or more likely as the crying face meme.
But back when he was famous for winning, his face was prominently featured in a sports/fitness line of toys at McDonald's. You could have gotten a jump rope, a tiny basketball, or a soccer ball. You have to feel sorry for the kid who got stuck with the stopwatch.
14 MP3 Players
Remember when MP3 players were all the rage in the early 2000s? You could play your music without having to lug around CDs, and the players were super small as a result! What a time to be alive! Even McDonald’s latched onto the craze by giving out their own players with Happy Meals.
And they were terrible. They were cheap plastic shells in lurid pastels, that played one terrible sounding popular song from the early 2000s. All the classics are there like Crazy Frog, Britney Spears, and Béla Bartók’s String Quartet No. 1.
13 Clown Valentines Cards
Remember when you were a kid, and your classes made you hand out those cheap Valentines cards to every one of the opposite gender in your class? That was pretty weird, and creepy in retrospect. But if you lived in the 1980s, you might have been extra lucky and gotten one of these babies—the McDonald’s Clown Valentines Cards.
These are just the typical cheap Valentines cards with McDonald’s characters on them. Some of them do have creepy sayings on them though, like “I eat my heart out for you,” or even insulting phrases like “Next to Ronald McDonald I love you best.”
12 Food FUNdamentals
Food FUNdamentals was a truly bizarre toy range featuring “healthy” foods turned into action figures. There are the usual suspects, such as an apple and milk (specifically low fat), as well as sweet corn. But then there’s a random sandwich wearing a helmet, for some reason, and what appears to be a T-Bone steak, wearing a baseball cap, sunglasses, and a creepy mustache.
These are strange toys on their own, but next to the normal looking apple, milk, and corn, the steak and sandwich seem way out of place.
11 McDonald’s Airport
I don’t know about other countries, but here in the United States, dollar stores are notorious for selling the absolute cheapest, grossest toys imaginable. They’re often poorly molded, painted in one, bright neon color, and so brittle they’ll snap in half if you just look at them for more than a fraction of a second.
That is the best way to describe McDonald’s Airport line— a cheap collection of gross toys loosely modeled after airplanes and helicopters. They’re brittle, they don’t do anything, and they’re probably full of lead paint.
10 Zizzle Iz
Good luck trying to pronounce the name of this toy. Good luck trying to figure out just what they’re supposed to be, too. How on Earth can one possibly describe these alien lifeforms? They’re multi-colored blobs with googly eyes, spindly legs, floppy antennas, and bent horns old people used in Victorian times to hear better. Also, they have suction cup for feet, because of course they do.
Originally launched as its own toy line to rival Furby, these monstrosities let you make music with them by twisting its body parts. They didn’t do well, would you believe, hence why they were given away for free with reconstituted chicken in kids meals.
You know what was popular in the 1980s? Transformers. Everyone and their dog was trying to rip-off the concept of robots that transform into other objects, because that’s what the kids love, apparently. Enter McDonald’s and their “changables” line of toys.
Changables weren’t nearly as cool as the Transformers though. Instead of vehicles transforming into cool robots, you instead got McDonald’s food that transformed into Lovecraftian horrors. Normally this is where a funny description of each toy goes, but words cannot do the above image justice.
8 Ronald McDonald Glove Puppet
Aside from fitting perfectly with the “Hot Pocket” tune, the Ronald McDonald Glove Puppet is quite possibly the worst excuse for a toy ever handed out at any restaurant. Introduced in 1976, this “puppet” was just an image of Ronald McDonald on a white glove.
If this were some kind of sock puppet—even a low-quality one made from used gym socks—this could have been a neat plaything. Instead, kids were treated to a plain white glove with jpeg badly printed on it. And with three fingers, it’s clearly not meant for human hands anyway.
7 Ninjago Camera
For the uninitiated, Ninjago is a Lego property about a bunch of ninjas. That’s pretty much it. A few years ago there was a Lego Ninjago movie, so the studio thought they’d get some promotion from McDonalds and their Happy Meals. Unfortunately for them, McDonald’s probably hurt them more than anything else.
What they produced was a “camera,” that instead of taking pictures, only displayed a handful of still images from the movie through its fake viewfinder. What to over promise and under deliver.
6 Stationery Set
McDonald’s gave kids a stationary set back in the 1970s. No joke, no punchline from me, just that sentence and the picture above. Kids were given pieces of paper, postcards, and that’s it. Who on Earth thought this was a good idea? Again, it was a different time, of course, but what kid at any point in human history would want blank paper for a toy? Kids growing up during the 1920s got better toys than this because they got toys, not pieces of paper. That was their dinner.
5 Tickle Feather Sponge
There’s an old cliché in Saturday morning cartoons about tickling somebody (usually in their sleep, on their feet) with a feather. Apparently, it’s supposed to be funny or something. McDonald’s wanted to capitalize on this, but thankfully thought better of giving kids actual feathers that would probably be covered in flu.
Instead, they did the next best thing: feather-shaped sponges. No, that isn’t a joke (well, it is), this is real. McDonald’s gave out tiny sponges in the shape of feathers. You can’t make this stuff up.
4 Happy VR Goggles
No, the house that Ronald built didn’t start giving out Oculus Rifts or Vives, although they might as well have. Instead, McDonald’s pulled a Google or Nintendo and made their contraption out of cardboard—especially, the Happy Meal box itself.
In Sweden, kids can take their box, fold it according to the included instructions, insert a pair of plastic lenses that also come with the box, and insert their phone inside to act as a faux-VR headset. It works about as well as you’d expect, which is to say not at all.
3 Toothbrush And Toothpaste
In 1983, McDonald’s teamed up with Colgate to include a tube of toothpaste and a toothbrush in every single Happy Meal. It was included instead of a toy, but still, its toothpaste and a toothbrush.
The two companies were probably trying to do the right thing in this case (more likely to curry favor from parents and increase their bottom line) but it’s insulting more than anything. “Hey parents, your kid’s teeth are bad, so we have to take care of them since you can’t!” Unsurprisingly, it didn’t go over well.
2 Halloween McNuggets
You thought the Halloween Pails were bad? They were. But so were the Halloween McNuggets, a series of toys based on those disgusting chicken nuggets dressed up as stereotypical Halloween characters. You’ve got a witch, a ghost, a zombie, a vampire, one that’s not dressed up as anything for some reason, and most scary of all, a politician.
There’s no getting around it, these things look like lumps of something gross. Actually, that probably speaks more to the quality of the food they’re based on than the toys themselves.
1 Gardening Tools
While plain paper and cheap MP3 players might be terrible toys, the weirdest has to be gardening tools. Why would a fast food burger joint give out gardening tools, of all things? What were they thinking?
The set included a small, plastic rake and trowel that broke the second it came into contact with the ground, a bird feeder that’s far too small to either hold food or support the weight of a bird, and a watering can in the shape of a gardening hose, because that makes sense.