Make it healthy: Legislation on kids’ meals in Montgomery County up for a vote

The members of the Montgomery County Council are expected to vote on legislation that would require restaurants that offer kids’ meals in the Maryland county to offer a healthy alternative.

Under the proposed legislation, the “healthy alternative” menu would have to consist of a number of items, such as fruit or vegetables, specified portions of whole grain products, a lean protein, nonfat or 1% milk, low-fat yogurt or a plant-based nondairy alternative, among other items.

Beverages included as the “default” in a children’s meal could not include sugary drinks, although 6 ounces or less of 100% fruit juice could be included. Milk that is offered as a companion to a child’s meal would have to be nonfat or 1% and could not exceed 8 ounces. Chocolate or other flavored milks could not be included.

Montgomery County Council member Craig Rice is the lead sponsor of the bill, and has urged its passage, in part, to help combat the rising incidence of childhood obesity.

In a work session before the council’s Health and Human Services Committee, Rice told committee members, the idea behind the legislation is not about creating food police.

“This really is about education,” Rice said. “This is not about fining a mom-and-pop store for not having a menu item on there.”

“If the restaurant didn’t have at least one healthy children’s meal option that met the criteria of this legislation, then they would not be able to offer any children’s meals,” Melvin Thompson with the Restaurant Association of Maryland told the committee during the Feb. 17 work session.

Council member Evan Glass he wanted to allay some concerns of small, independent businesses.

He pointed out that a restaurant could still offer child-sized portions without having to offer the healthy alternative if they didn’t bundle the meal with a beverage on the menu.

One of the amendments suggested during the work session included providing a longer period — one year — between adoption of the bill and its enforcement.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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