Montgomery County, MD to implement first-in-the-nation legislation improving kids’ meals at restaurants

A sliced chicken and vegetable sandwich served at a restaurant

Omar Lezama Hernandez -

Measure which requires healthy drinks by default and at least one healthy meal takes full effect tomorrow

Starting tomorrow, all restaurants that offer kids’ meals in Montgomery County, MD will be required to serve at least one healthy children’s meal. The county will be the first jurisdiction in the country to implement such a policy, following passage of this healthy kids’ meals legislation in March of 2022.  

In order to comply with the legislation, at least one children’s meal offered by each restaurant must meet expert nutrition standards for calories, sodium, total sugars, total fat, saturated fat, and trans fat. In addition to meeting these standards, the healthy meal must also include two or more of the following food components: unfried fruit or vegetables, a whole grain product, or a lean protein. 

“I am so pleased that, 18 months after enactment of the Healthy Children’s Meals bill, we are now seeing the implementation of the meal portion that will ensure our children can access nutritious, healthy options,” said Councilmember Gabe Albornoz, Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. “This initiative is an important tool to support and inform restauranteurs and families about well-rounded, balanced nutrition to sustain and build strong bodies. The requirement to offer fruit or unfried vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein as part of any advertised children’s meal will help promote lifelong, healthy habits. I applaud all partners and especially our restaurants in embracing healthy meals.” 

The legislation also requires restaurants that offer kids’ meals to make healthy beverages, like water or non-fat milk, the default beverage offering with a children’s meal. That provision went into effect in March of this year.  

The effort to pass this legislation was led by the Montgomery County NAACP, the American Heart Association, CASA, Center for Science in the Public Interest, and other advocates.  

“It is our goal at the NAACP to end racial health disparities and create an inclusive culture of healthy people and communities. This starts with taking care of our most valuable resources, our kids. Kids deserve to have healthy drink and food options at home, in school, and in restaurants,” said Montgomery County NAACP President Linda Plummer. “The Montgomery County Council has started to do just that. We applaud the Silver Diner and all the restaurants in the county and across the country that are including healthier choices on their menus. The healthy choice is the right choice.” 

Restaurants may need to introduce new menu items, such as unfried fruits or vegetables and whole grains, or reformulate existing menu items in order to comply with the policy. For example, BurgerFi’s current kids’ meal offerings would not meet the policy’s sodium standard. BurgerFi's lowest sodium kids’ meal contains 910 milligrams of sodium, 210 more than the bill’s limit of 700 mg. 

“For too long, unhealthy foods and sugary drinks have dominated the kids’ menu at restaurants. With this legislation in effect, families will have healthy options to choose from when dining out,” said CSPI policy associate Katie Marx. “CSPI applauds the hard work of Montgomery County and the advocates that supported the passage and implementation of this legislation. We encourage restaurants to fully implement this policy and support families' efforts to feed their children well.” 

Neighboring Prince George’s County was the first jurisdiction in the country to pass legislation requiring restaurants to serve at least one healthy kids’ meal, in 2020. Its legislation will go into effect next year. These Maryland localities are part of the growing list of jurisdictions that have passed healthy kids’ meals legislation. Over two dozen states and localities, including Baltimore, have passed legislation requiring kids’ meals be served with healthy default beverages. 

“It is our collective responsibility as parents, policymakers, and community members to create the healthiest environment possible so that each of our children can reach their full potential. Healthier options on restaurant kids’ meal menus make the nutritious choice easier for families dining out and is a critical step to usher in a healthier future for the next generation,” Dr. Yolandra Hancock, an American Heart Association board member and pediatrician said. 

Advocates are also bringing similar kids’ meal nutrition standards legislation to other counties in Maryland, including Howard County and Charles County. On Tuesday, the Charles County Board of Commissioners voted to move forward with a future public hearing and final vote on similar healthy kids’ meals legislation.  

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