Maryland continues to lead on kids’ meals as Charles County legislation passes

A glass of orange juice with a straw next to a plate of sweet plantains on a checkered tablecloth

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Bill would require one healthy meal and make healthier drinks the default choice

Charles County became the third county in the country to pass legislation that comprehensively improves restaurant kids’ meals. Similar to legislation passed in Maryland’s Prince George’s County in 2020 and Montgomery County in 2022, this law will ensure that healthier beverages are the default with restaurant children’s meals and that at least one kids’ meal on the menu will meet expert nutrition standards.

Parents and caregivers can still request a different beverage or side for their children, but they will no longer have the least healthy items served to their children as the default option. County restaurants will have one year to implement the healthy default beverage component and 18 months to implement the nutrition standards for one meal. 

“Maryland continues to lead the way when it comes to ensuring that families have healthier options for their children at restaurants,” said Dyotha Sweat, President of the Charles County Branch NAACP. “There are no silver bullets, but we need to do everything we can to reduce kids’ risk for diet-related health problems like type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Restaurants have a role to play and we hope bills like this inspire the industry to go even beyond what the law requires.”

"I applaud the commissioners for making the healthy choice, the easy choice for Charles County families when eating in our local restaurants,” said Dr. Dianna Abney, Health Officer for Charles County. “This speaks volumes for their commitment to combatting childhood obesity and to improving the health outcomes of our children and our county.”

Maryland’s progress on kids’ meals hasn’t been limited to the Washington suburbs. The city of Baltimore has passed legislation requiring healthy drinks as the default with kids’ meals in 2018.

“Charles County has taken an important step to support the health of children in the county by passing a comprehensive restaurant kids’ meal bill,” said CSPI food and environment campaign manager Sara Ribakove. “Maryland counties continue to set the tone for what a committed group of advocates and lawmakers can do to ensure healthy options are available for kids. We encourage families and advocates around the country to consider taking similar action in your own community.”

“As the momentum grows to improve restaurant kids’ meals, it should be noted that restaurants should aspire to make most, if not all, of their kids’ meals healthy,” said American Heart Association Maryland State Government Relations Director Laura Hale. “But what a relief for Charles County families to know that there will be at least one meal combination on the menu that experts would recommend for a child.”

Supporters of the bill credited its sponsor, Commissioner President Reuben Collins, the Charles County community, the Charles County NAACP, and officials with county’s health department and school system for mobilizing community support for the bill.

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