Rice suggests mandatory “healthy meal” options for children in restaurants

County Council Craig Rice proposes a state “healthy meal” for restaurants, forcing menus to have at least one nutritious option for kids.

The option would be one of many on the menus of restaurants and similar businesses county-wide, according to the bill.

Restaurants and other food service companies will, under the proposal, be required to serve at least one meal that contains less than:

  • 600 calories
  • 700 milligrams of sodium
  • 35% of calories are from total sugars
  • 35% of calories come from fat
  • 10% of calories from saturated fat
  • 0.5 g of trans fats

The meal should also include either water without added sugar; 8 ounces or less of skim milk, 1%, or equivalent, daily; or 6 ounces or less of fruit or vegetable juice, or a fruit and vegetable juice blend.

It should also include the following:

  • ½ cup or more of non-fried fruit or vegetables, excluding juices, condiments and spreads
  • A whole-grain product consisting of 51% by weight or more of whole-grain ingredients
  • lean protein, which could be: one ounce or more of meat, seafood, nuts, seeds, beans or peas; an egg; 1/2 cup fat-free or 1% yogurt, low-fat yogurt, or 1 ounce low-fat cottage cheese; Or a vegan alternative that contains calcium or vitamin D

If the bill is passed, it must still be signed by the county executive to become law.

If restaurants or similar businesses do not comply, it would be a Class A violation. According to provincial law, this means the company will face an initial fine of $500, then a fine of $750 for repeat offences.

Prince George’s County Council approved similar legislation in November 2020. This legislation sets similar limits About the types of drinks that can be served with kids’ meals, along with calorie, sugar and fat restrictions, according to Voices for Healthy Kids, an American Heart Association group that advocates for better health for young adults.

The coronavirus pandemic has shown that those at the bottom of the social and economic ladder are more likely to have poor eating habits, and thus worse complications from COVID-19, Rice said.

“It helps inculcate lifelong healthy eating behaviors that are truly important to our children, similar to our future generations,” Rice said while introducing his bill at Tuesday’s meeting. “Child obesity rates continue to rise, and there are long-term consequences and long-term health implications as a result of seeing these obesity rates.”

Rice said the bill was supported by the American Heart Association and that he worked with the Maryland Restaurant Association as it was drafted.

In an interview, he said the legislation aims to give families more options for their children to eat healthy food at restaurants and businesses nationwide.

At the start of the pandemic, Rice said, he noted the importance of children eating healthy food, especially as county and Montgomery County public school officials worked to provide students with meals as schools closed.

He hopes restaurants and similar establishments will see this as an opportunity. He thinks it shouldn’t be difficult for them to serve at least one healthy meal.

“Ultimately, what interests me most is that we can come up with a way that isn’t overburdened on our business and restaurants to offer our customers better options,” Rice said.

Melvin Thompson, senior vice president of government affairs and public policy for the Maryland Restaurant Association, wrote in an email that his organization will continue to work with Rice through the legislative process. Added that the disk is required.

“We have had initial discussions with Council member Rice and his staff about this legislation, and we hope to continue working with him and the Council to address industry concerns regarding the specifics of the language of the law,” Thompson wrote.

Brian Levine, vice president of government affairs for the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, declined to comment on the legislation.

Rice said he is willing to work with the Maryland Restaurant Association and other partners to amend the legislation, possibly by reducing the number of requirements.

County Council Chairman Gabi Burnoz and Council Member Will Gwando are co-sponsors. A public hearing is scheduled for February 1.

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com

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