All restaurants that offer kids’ meals in Montgomery County, Maryland, are now required to serve at least one healthy children’s meal.
The county is the first jurisdiction in the country to implement such a policy, following the passage of this healthy kids’ meals legislation in March of 2022.
The legislation 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.
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.
Overall, McDonald’s kids meals do not meet the standards for healthy meals for children in Montgomery County, Maryland.
The Montgomery County healthy meal standards also require that at least two of the following food components be included in a healthy meal for children: unfried fruit or vegetables, a whole grain product, or a lean protein.
McDonald’s Happy Meal Cheeseburger includes a cheeseburger, french fries, and apple slices. The cheeseburger is a lean protein, but the french fries are a high-fat food, and the apple slices are the only unfried fruit or vegetable.
The Happy Meal Chicken McNuggets meal includes chicken nuggets, french fries, and apple slices. The chicken nuggets are a lean protein, but the french fries are a high-fat food, and the apple slices are the only unfried fruit or vegetable.
Other popular fast food joints also fail the meal Montgomery County healthy children’s meal standards, including Chick-fil-A Kid’s Chicken Nugget, Wendy’s Kid’s Chicken Nuggets and Kid’s Cheeseburger, Panera Bread Kids Grilled Cheese Sandwich Combo, and Chipotle Kid’s Burrito.
The Subway Grilled Chicken Sandwich for Kids gets a passing grade.
The 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.