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The New McOatmeal: Good For You and Even Better for McDonald's

It isn't going to be easy for McDonald's (MCD) haters to find fault with the chain's new maple and fruit oatmeal -- a smooth, creamy, tasty and good-for-you blend of oats, crunchy apples, raisins and dried cranberries. Available in all McDonald's restaurants in January, it's one of the few things on the menu that doesn't arrive in stores frozen or already partially cooked (well, fried). As the cashier at my local McDonald's cheerily told me this morning, "We make it right here for you when you order it."

For McDonald's, which is forever looking for ways to boost its reputation and associate itself with "quality food", oatmeal is great image builder. Coupled with the real fruit smoothies that landed on the menu this summer, oatmeal gives McDonald's an answer to critics who charge the chain with selling crappy, uber-processed, fattening food, and unfairly luring in kids to eat that food, as is alleged in a Happy Meal lawsuit filed today.

The new oatmeal is processed only to the extent that the oats are cut, rolled and combined with modified food starch -- an ingredient you certainly wouldn't sprinkle in at home and that's probably added for consistency. I watched as the kitchen workers at my McDonald's added the hot water that's used for tea to the oatmeal container, stirred it up and dumped in a few small bags of fruit. A serving of oatmeal has 5 grams of fiber -- a rare component of fast food -- 5 grams of protein and 10% of the daily recommended dose of iron.

Critics may point to the cereal's 32 grams of sugar, but a good chunk of that is coming naturally from the fruit, and the concoction is not at all overly sweet. Even with the added brown sugar -- which is technically optional, but who's going to turn that down? -- oatmeal, with 290 calories, weighs in at less than almost everything else on McDonald's and other fast food breakfast menus.

It's way too early to say that McDonald's is redefining fast food, but they're certainly getting major mileage from healthier offerings. In honor of the smoothies, the entrance doors on many stores have been decorated with colorful images of ripe, juicy berries, suggesting that what awaits inside is not french fries and chicken nuggets, but a bountiful harvest of fresh, whole foods. McDonald's would like nothing more than a little respect from foodies and nutrition advocates, and has a section on its web site, complete with videos from the kitchen, devoted to info on how healthy and fresh its food is.

Oatmeal makes this claim a little more believable.

by Flickr user creepyed