What's new at McDonald's (and an exclusive behind-the-counter peek!)

Last summer McDonald's introduced what might be my all-time favorite McDonald's menu item ever: Blueberry Banana Nut Oatmeal.  Alas, it was a limited-time product (although regular Fruit & Maple Oatmeal is still available), only sold in the summer of 2012.  I knew all along that it wouldn't last (so I ate lots and LOTS of it last year), but a tiny part of me kept hoping they'd bring it back.

Fast forward to 1 year later, and while the Blueberry Banana Nut Oatmeal hasn't come back (yet -- I can't give up hope entirely), blueberries are making a comeback this season with the new McCafé® Blueberry Pomegranate Smoothie!  It's just one of several yummy, healthy options McDonald's has introduced to their menu this year.   To celebrate their new flavors, I was invited to a local McDonald's for brunch along with a few other bloggers.

Our day started with the new Egg White Delight McMuffin.  It's prepared with freshly grilled 100% egg whites, extra lean Canadian bacon and white cheddar, served on a new muffin. It's the yummiest way ever to start your day, giving you 18 grams of protein and 9 grams of whole grain, for only 250 calories!  Yum!

Our power breakfast gave us the energy we needed for our next activity:  a behind the scenes (or should I say behind the Golden Arches!) tour of a McDonald's restaurant.  The franchise owner led us through every nook and cranny, from the big freezer to the soda mixing machine to all the prep areas to the front counter.  This was actually my second restaurant tour; my first was almost 3 years ago at the McDonald's Headquarters in Illinois, but that one served only McDonald's employees and was something of a concept store, so last week's tour was my first at a working Bay Area restaurant serving regular customers.  We learned quite a few things about the ins and outs of running a McDonald's restaurant.  Here are my favorite fun facts:

* McDonald's uses Fresh Express Salads to make their own salads -- yup, they use regular brands that you and I use every day.

* The Greater Bay Area McDonald's restaurants source the lettuce for burgers and chicken sandwiches from Salinas (kudos to them for buying local!).

* You won't find old, moldy produce in a McDonald's restaurant -- turnover is so quick that they only store 3-4 days worth of food supplies in their freezer.

* People don't actually flip burgers at McDonald's -- they use a double sided grill!

* Condiment dispensers are calibrated to dispense precise amounts (for example, 2/3 oz. of pickles for each burger) so that the nutritional information is correct

* How do McDonald's fries get so crisp on the outside and tender on the inside?  The secret is a two-step process -- fry the potatoes, cool them down, then refry (BTW, when I visited Belgium last year, I learned that they also do the 2-step frying process for their world-famous Belgian fries, so McDonald's has learned from the best!)

* McDonald's recycles their frying oil; every 3-4 days they completely change out their oil, and the old batch gets turned into biodiesel fuel.  Many McDonald's restaurants in the Bay Area even compost!

* Ever wonder how the folks manning the drive-thru know someone has arrived?  It's not just a video camera -- there's a wire built into the concrete driveway leading up to the drive-thru ordering billboard, and an electric current runs through it.  Your metal car disturbs that current, which gives a signal alerting the server that someone has pulled up into the drive-thru lane!

Our visit wasn't over yet -- we still had 2 more new menu items to try. We chowed down on the new Premium McWrap -- chicken and veggies wrapped in a flour tortilla.  We had the Sweet Chili Chicken variety, with grilled chicken breast (you can also order it with crispy chicken), cucumber slices (the first time McDonald's has featured cucumber in a sandwich!), greens and lettuce.  It's drizzled with sweet chili garlic sauce, which gives it a kick you don't normally experience from your regular fast food menu. What a great alternative to burgers!

I can finally get my McDonald's blueberry fix again, thanks to new McCafé® Blueberry Pomegranate Smoothie, made with blueberries, raspberries, a splash of pomegranate juice and other juices and blended smooth with low-fat yogurt and ice. It's really quite delicious, and the 12 fl. oz. size is only 220 calories, with no added sugar.

If you associate McDonald's with burgers and fries, you should definitely check out McDonald's new items.  They're fresher, healthier and tastier, and they will definitely change the way you've come to think about McDonald's!

Disclosure: I did not receive a sample or monetary compensation for this post. . The views and opinions expressed here are my own.

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