Last March, Bill No. 1-22 Healthy Meals for Children, which requires restaurants in Montgomery County that offer a children’s meal to provide a healthy option (meal and drink) for their youngest customers, was passed. The first phase (healthy beverage option) went into effect in March, and the second phase (healthy meal option) goes into effect this Friday, September 15. This is the first bill of this nature to be fully implemented in the country. It should be noted that while a healthy option must be presented, customers are not limited in selecting any menu item of their choice. According to the bill, the healthy meals must be under 600 calories and include the following:
On Thursday, county leaders held a press conference at the Silver Diner (12276 Rockville Pike) in Rockville. Per the restaurant, “Silver Diner made it clear today that it supports Montgomery County, Maryland’s new legislation, “Healthy Meals for Children” Bill. (Bill 1-22) that goes into effect on Friday, Sept. 15. The legislation requires food and restaurant facilities offering children’s meals to include healthy food and beverage options, something Silver Diner has been doing for more than 10 years.
In 2012, Silver Diner took a gamble. The restaurant group removed Fries and soda from its kids’ menu and implemented additional healthy offerings such as salmon, additional vegetables and other options. This after noticing that kids were ordering more sides of strawberries than any other offering. Sales soared and, after the menu changes were instituted, nearly half of the children’s entrees ordered were from the healthier kids’ meal options (46% compared to 3% before the changes.) The proportion of kids’ meal orders that included at least one healthy side also increased dramatically—from 26% before the changes to 70% after the changes were made. Notably, overall Silver Diner revenue continued to grow after the menu changes, exceeding that of leading family dining chains during the same time period.
Silver Diner’s Executive Chef Ype Von Hengst was instrumental in making the menu changes. He held in-diner focus groups with multiple groups of children who volunteered to be “Chef for a Day” and work alongside Ype taste testing proposed new dishes and providing feedback. “The feedback from our smallest customers was critical,” said Von Hengst. In some cases, parents stated upfront what their children would and would not eat. This included salmon and some vegetables. Yet, the kids gave Von Hengst’s salmon entrée a big thumbs up, astounding parents. The same held true for vegetables and other healthy menu options—the children voted them onto the menu.
In 2015, researchers from ChildObesity 180 and Tufts University Friedman School used Silver Diner as a national case study on how to influence children’s healthy eating. Results were reported in the journal Obesity.
Researchers examined outcomes before and after Silver Diner made changes to its children’s menu in order to make healthier items easier to choose. This study was the first of its kind to look at both ordering patterns of children’s food plus a restaurant’s sales data after making menu changes.
“Our study showed that healthier children’s menu options were ordered a lot more often when those options were more prevalent and prominent on kids’ menus, highlighting the promise of efforts to shift the status quo and make healthier options the new norm,” said Stephanie Anzman-Frasca, Ph.D., research associate at ChildObesity180 and lead author of the paper. “Given how frequently kids go to restaurants, and evidence that this can be linked with consuming excess calories, offering and promoting healthier menu options could play a role in reversing the childhood obesity epidemic.”
As the study pointed out, Silver Diner made three main changes:
1. Offered more healthy kids’ meals: More kids’ meals met nutrition standards set by the National Restaurant Association’s Kids LiveWell program (59%, compared to 22% before the changes).
2. Automatically included healthy sides: Healthy side dishes—strawberries, mixed vegetables, or side salads—were automatically included with all kids’ meals by default.
3. Took less healthy options off the kids’ menu: Fries and sugary fountain drinks including soda and lemonade were removed from the menu. They were still available as substitutions at no extra charge but had to be requested.
For the study, aggregate data from more than 350,000 children’s meals ordered were analyzed, along with a random subsample of individual checks (18,712) from both before (September 2011-March 2012) and after (September 2012-March 2013) the menu changes went into effect.
“We learned that what children eat can be easily influenced by what they’re offered,” added Von Hengst. “When they have great healthy meal choices, it’s easy for them to eat healthy.”
Von Hengst continued, “While we believe offering healthy choices is important, especially for children, we also believe that choice is important. That’s why we offer a variety of options to allow our guests to customize their preferences. Giving people choice is why we’ve been so successful with our healthier kids menu.”
Sponsors of the Montgomery County bill included Councilmember Craig Rice as the lead sponsor with co-sponsors Council President Albornoz and Councilmembers Jawando, Navarro and Hucker. Support was also provided by the Montgomery County NAACP, the American Heart Association and Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Although Prince Georges County has passed a similar bill, Montgomery County is the first in the nation to implement the legislation. The two counties will be the first in the country to have this legislation. Restaurants and diners will still be able to choose their meals, children will just have a healthy option.
For more information on Silver Diner, visit www.silverdiner.com.”