Nowadays, McDonald’s worldwide sells about 2.7 million Happy Meals per day. The childhood staple is a favorite in the 38,000 franchises and has become a nostalgic piece of history for many of us. But how much do you know about the story of McDonald’s iconic cardboard box? Moreover, did you know a Latina came up with the idea?

Just as you read it. Chilean-Guatemalan Yolanda Fernández de Cofiño was the brain behind creating a meal for children. But how exactly did it happen?

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When a Latina innovator sees a problem, she knows how to fix it

Yolanda Fernández de Cofiño was born in Santiago de Chile in 1934. At age 20, she moved to Guatemala, where her father was appointed ambassador. There, she met and married José María Cofiño.

Along with her husband, Fernández bought the first McDonald’s franchise in Guatemala. She was involved in the business from the get-go and knew the best strategy was to market the franchise as a family restaurant.

To do so, Fernandez started doing her homework. She attended Hamburger University in Oak Brook, Illinois, and attended seminars and conventions. That’s when she realized there was a small “problem” to solve in her restaurant. Fernandez noticed the menu portions were too large for children, so why not create something tailored specifically to them?

Credit: McDonald’s Mesoamérica.

Thus, McDonald’s Happy Meals were born

Fernandez called them the “Ronald Menu.” The first format included a small hamburger, a small portion of French fries, and an ice cream. The cherry on top was a small toy.

This Latina innovation forever changed clients’ perspectives on McDonald’s and brought it to what we know so well today. In fact, the formula worked so well that executives at McDonald’s corporate offices in the U.S. advised her to present the menu at the World Franchise Convention in 1977.

While many people think Bob Bernstein, founder and CEO of the marketing agency Bernstein-Rein, actually came up with the idea, that’s not how the story goes. When the McDonald’s management in Chicago saw how successful the “Ronald Menu” was, they asked Bernstein to transform it into an international product.

McDonald’s adopted and implemented the idea worldwide in 1979, renaming it “Happy Meal” and adding more options, such as cheeseburgers or hamburgers.

Credit: McDonald’s Mesoamérica.

But Fernandez de Cofiño didn’t stop there

Who doesn’t remember celebrating a birthday at McDonald’s? Well, this was also Fernandez de Cofiño’s idea. The executives implemented it worldwide, and it became the massive success we know today.

After her husband died, Fernández continued managing the restaurant chain and went beyond. She acquired the El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua franchises, also known as “McDonald’s Mesoamérica.” Nowadays, they have over 5,500 employees and 105 restaurants.

Credit: Ronald McDonald Foundation.

She established the Ronald McDonald Foundation in Guatemala to support children with severe malnutrition and other illnesses. Fernandez also helped open the first Ronald McDonald House in 2005. The organization provided lodging for low-income families traveling to Guatemala City for medical treatment.

Fernández de Cofiño died in Guatemala City on September 6, 2021. She is remembered as an inspiring Jefa who completely transformed the biggest fast-food chain in the world.