Councilmember Rice to Introduce Bill that Would Require Restaurants and Food Service Facilities to Provide at Least One Healthy Meal Option for Children

by Patrick Herron

For Immediate Release: Monday, January 10, 2022

Rockville, Md., Jan. 10, 2022—During tomorrow’s Council meeting, Councilmember Craig Rice will introduce Bill 1-22, Eating and Drinking Establishments – Healthy Meals for Children, which would require all food service facilities in Montgomery County that offer a children’s meal to also offer at least one healthy children’s meal and beverage option. The bill is co-sponsored by Council President Gabe Albornoz and Councilmembers Will Jawando and Nancy Navarro.

Under Bill 1-22, the healthy children’s meal must include two nutritious options and would also require a healthy default beverage as part of the meal. The bill would not prohibit customers from selecting other options on the menu.

“Childhood obesity remains a longstanding problem in our nation and the rate continues to climb impacting our children’s health and quality of life. Especially in a time when our busy lifestyles have more families eating out, it is imperative that as a County we require that healthy options are available in our children’s meals,” said Councilmember Rice, who serves as chair of the Council’s Education Committee and as a member of the Health and Human Services Committee. “I applaud many of our restaurants who are already responding to the demands of their customers by offering healthier selections. This bill lays out a minimum threshold to ensure our children have nutritionally sound meal options available to them, promoting more healthful eating habits early on and throughout their lives.”

As childhood obesity continues to rise nationwide at alarming rates, including in Montgomery County, children are also at greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart diseases and other chronic illnesses. One of the major contributing factors to childhood obesity is the overconsumption of sugary drinks and high fat, processed, unhealthy foods. The trend has become of even greater concern during the pandemic given that children with pre-existing health conditions, including obesity, were found to be at greater risk of falling severely ill after contracting COVID-19. This legislation would provide a healthier food and drink option for children, making it easier for parents with children that have these health concerns to eat out at any food service facility in the County.

Any food service facility in an industry, institution, hospital, club, school, church, catering kitchen, or camp would be subject to this legislation. A food service facility includes any restaurant, coffee shop, retail market, cafeteria, short-order cafe, luncheonette, tavern, sandwich stand, or soda fountain.

Failing to meet the requirement would be a class A violation, which includes a $500 fine for a first-time violation and a $750 fine for repeated violations. If enacted, the Department of Health and Human Services would enforce this legislation.

Under Bill 1-22, a healthy children’s meal would consist of two or more of the following:

  • half a cup or more of unfried fruit or unfried vegetables, excluding juice, condiments or spreads.
  • a whole grain product that:
  • contains, by weight, fifty-one percent or more of whole grain ingredients; or
  • lists whole grain as the first ingredient in its ingredient list required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
  • a lean protein consisting of:
  • one ounce or more of meat, seafood, nuts, seeds, beans, or peas;
  • one egg;
  • half a cup of nonfat or one percent milk or low-fat yogurt, or one ounce of reduced fat cheese; or
  • a plant-based, nondairy alternative that:
    • contains the same amount of protein as, or more protein than, an item under this paragraph; and
    • is fortified with calcium and vitamin D.

The bill would also require that any food service facility that offers a children’s meal with a beverage must also offer as the default beverage one or more of the following options:

  • water, with no added natural or artificial sweeteners, flavors or carbonation;
  • eight ounces or less of unflavored nonfat or one percent milk or a non-dairy equivalent with no added natural or artificial sweeteners; or
  • six ounces or less of one hundred percent fruit or vegetable juice, or a combination of one hundred percent fruit and vegetable juice, with no added natural or artificial sweeteners.

Bill 1-22 builds upon a similar law adopted by Prince George’s County in May of 2021, and was developed following close consultation with and recommendations from the American Heart Association to help combat and prevent childhood obesity.

Also in 2021, National Restaurant Association launched Kids Livewell as part of an industry-level effort to promote healthy eating for children by incorporating similar standards as those set in this bill.

A public hearing for Bill 1-22 is tentatively scheduled for Feb. 1 at 1:30 p.m. For more information, the Council staff report can be viewed here.

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1 comment

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Bill Samuel January 11, 2022 - 10:44 am

The problem of children not eating healthy meals is a real one, and the Council members are right to be concerned about it. However, I wonder if this is an overreach in governmental regulation of such a wide variety of outlets in such detail. I would prefer an approach which provides incentives rather than such hardcore regulation.

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