Montgomery County, MD soon to require healthier drinks with kids’ meals

A small bottle of low fat milk next to schoolbooks and a pencil

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Advocates celebrate as bill takes effect Wednesday

Starting on Wednesday, restaurants that serve kids’ meals in Montgomery County, Maryland will be offering healthier drinks like water or low-fat milk instead of soda or other sugary drinks. That’s thanks to legislation passed by the County Council last year, which gave restaurants one year to implement that part of the measure. 

Montgomery County, just outside Washington, DC, has 19 municipalities, including Rockville, Chevy Chase, and Takoma Park, as well as large unincorporated communities such as Bethesda, Wheaton, and Silver Spring — and more than one million residents. 

The county becomes the second jurisdiction in the country to require restaurants with kids’ menus to offer at least one healthy meal that meets the nutrition standards it specifies. That portion of the law will go into effect in September. 

The campaign to pass the Montgomery County ordinance was led by the Montgomery County NAACP, the American Heart Association, CASA of Maryland, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest, among others. 

“Our children, especially in Black and Brown communities, do not always have access to healthy foods, like fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains,” said Montgomery County NAACP president Linda Plummer. “As a result, our kids have higher rates of obesity and childhood diabetes. Kids deserves to have healthy food options at home, in school, and in restaurants. With this legislation, Montgomery County has taken a big step forward in making restaurants more friendly to families.” 

“Sugary soda contributes to diabetes, heart disease, weight gain, and tooth decay, and unlike most other beverages or foods, contribute nothing positive to kids’ diets or health,” said CSPI policy associate Katie Marx. “Parents will still be free to choose them, but most parents will likely be relieved that the default choice is a healthier drink.” 

In 2020, neighboring Prince George’s County, which has nearly one million residents, was the first jurisdiction in the country to include a healthy meal standard as well as a healthy beverage requirement. That goes into effect next year. 

Across the country, the states of California, Delaware, Hawaii, and Illinois, and cities such as Baltimore, Philadelphia, St. Louis, MO; New Orleans, LA; and Toledo, Columbus, and Cleveland, OH have passed similar bills requiring healthier drinks with kids’ meals. 

“This policy facilitates the healthy choice being the easy choice and provides nutritious options for busy parents like myself to choose from,” said Dr. Yolandra Hancock, an American Heart Association board member and pediatrician. “As a doctor, health advocate and a mother, I know creating the healthiest environment for our children to thrive starts with the food we put on their plates.” 

Advocates for the kids’ meal bill thanked former Montgomery County Councilmember Craig Rice for his early leadership on behalf of the measure in the last council session, and to Councilmember Gabe Albornoz for his continued support as this bill is implemented. 

 "As a father of four, I am proud to have supported this legislation alongside Councilmember Rice,” said Albornoz. “Ensuring that a default beverage included in a kid’s meal is not high in sugar is an important first step to helping our families establish nutritious eating habits that can lead to healthier outcomes. I appreciated all the partners coming together to offer their expertise and advocacy which was critical in getting this legislation enacted and implemented.” 

Advocates in other Maryland counties are eyeing similar measures. In southern Maryland’s Charles County, the local NAACP and other faith and community groups have partnered with the Department of Health and school system to advocate for healthy food choices in that county. 

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