Penne for your thoughts: McDonalds adult Happy Meals offer nostalgic blast to the past for fast food fans


Remember those car rides when you were younger, driving home from school or perhaps coming back from a little league sports game, and you’d beg your parents to take you to McDonald’s? Well, I know I do. 

But my younger self wasn’t necessarily jonesing for Mickey D’s because I was desperate for some chicken nuggets. Instead, the iconic red and yellow cardboard box ignited my desires. Happy Meals were one of the highlights of many people’s childhoods. No one can take away the core memory of chowing down on some salty french fries while showing your mom or dad how obsessed you are with your new plastic toy that came with your meal from the car’s back seat. 

But what if these memories could be rekindled for those of us who left our Happy Meal days behind many years ago? Well, if you were craving a bit of nostalgia and wanted to relive your childhood fantasies, you were in luck earlier this October. 

Oct. 4, 2022, McDonalds introduced limited edition adult Happy Meals to their menu — although, they missed a prime opportunity as they were not called adult Happy Meals. Instead, they were known as Cactus Plant Flea Market boxes. The new meal was McDonalds’ part of a brand collaboration between them and popular fashion line, The Cactus Plant Flea Market, who are known for their streetwear clothing. For their portion of the collaboration, Cactus Plant Flea Market released a line of streetwear clothing with all items being inspired by iconic McDonalds’ imagery or characters.  

You may be wondering what this adult Happy Meal consists of. The meal includes your choice of a Big Mac or a ten piece chicken McNuggets, along with a medium fry and drink. However, this return to the past doesn’t stop there; the Cactus Plant Flea Market box also includes a plastic figurine — with four-eyes to be exact. There are four variations of this limited edition collectible featuring iconic McDonalds characters and one new edition: Hamburglar, Grimace, Birdie and Cactus Buddy. Toy distribution is randomized among the boxes, so there is a big incentive to purchase the adult Happy Meal multiple times just to snag all the collectibles. 

Another fascinating addition is that the box isn’t just a bigger version of the red Kids Happy Meal packaging. Instead, the design is based on the collaboration with the Cactus Plant Flea Market brand, containing cool print designs and images such as what the toys look like and a retro McDonald’s graphic. 

There are no surprises about the food in The Cactus Plant Flea Market boxes. Whether you get a Coke, a Sprite, a Big Mac or chicken McNuggets, you get what you asked for. The quality of the food in the adult Happy Meals is standard. The food is good, but it is precisely what you would expect taste-wise when you order from McDonald’s. The only obvious upside to the adult Happy Meal in terms of its food is its larger portions relative to what is provided in a Kids Happy Meal. But that’s probably for the best since we are catering to older audiences, not younger ones. 

While there is a lack of culinary diversity in these boxed adult meals, the meals’ popularity was not particularly impacted. This makes sense, considering our attraction to Happy Meals as children was not really toward the food but rather the experience associated with the meals. In fact, McDonald’s primary demographic in marketing the food were fashion fans of The Cactus Flea Market Brand and McDonald’s customers craving nostalgia. The Cactus Flea Market boxes were such a big hit that they sold out much earlier than predicted. Unfortunately, the collab’s existence was planned only to last for a limited time, so this shortage of supply moved its removal from the menu to an earlier date. 

I found out the sad news at the local Williamsburg McDonald’s. You can imagine the disappointment on my face when the employee at the drive-through explained they ran out of adult Happy Meals weeks ago. Because of the McDonald’s company’s failure to anticipate the boxes becoming a mega-hit among consumers, others, such as myself, were unable to partake in this nostalgic blast from the past. 

So are these Cactus Plant Flea Market boxes worth it? The answer to that question varies depending on who you ask. If you want to go to McDonald’s for a burger and fries, I would say probably not. The extra couple of bucks you pay are going toward a cheap plastic toy and cardboard box, so if food is all you are interested in, it’s worth refraining from the adult Happy Meal. However, if you are interested in finding a fun way to express your inner child, then the eleven dollars and fifty-cent box may be something to invest in. 

In my opinion, if the Cactus Plant Flea Market boxes do manage to make a comeback, I encourage you to try them. At the end of the day, there is no harm in embracing your inner kid every once in a while.


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