Parents may soon have a healthier kid's meal on the menu at Minnesota restaurants with legislation aimed at promoting healthier eating habits among children.

Sen. Paul Utke, R-Park Rapids, introduced the Healthy Kids Meal bill on Feb. 25 in an effort to reduce the risk of chronic diseases, like obesity, in children and encourage healthy defaults.

"It's something that everybody has been working on over the years and this was just one more step to try to put good choices in the forefront when families make choices at a restaurant," said Utke.

Included in the bill, restaurants would be required to provide different default drink options, like milk or flavored water, instead of soda. Additionally, fruits, or vegetables, would be a required side-item in every kids meal. This provision excludes white potatoes, juices and condiments from being counted in the vegetable side-item requirement.

"It’s recommended that children have no more than one 8-ounce sugary drink a week, but today the average child consumes as much as 10 times that amount—enough to fill a bathtub every year," said Jess Nolan, government relations director for the American Heart Association, in a released statement. "We applaud Senator Utke for taking an important step to help parents support the health of their children."

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The bill would also require kid's meals not exceed 600 calories, 770 milligrams of sodium, and must have less than 10% of the meal's total calories come from saturated fat. The meal would also need to have less than 35% of the calories come from total sugar and less than 35% from fat.

He also said he has heard concerns about the bill over events, like birthday parties at a restaurant with pizza and soda, and thinks there may be some changes made during the committee process to allow for those special events to take place without restrictions.

"You don't want the unintended consequences," he said. "This is meant to be more for just that exposure at the restaurant and not these auxiliary type things."

The bill wouldn't be fully phased-in until August 2025 under the current proposal.

Before Aug. 1, 2022:

  • The new default beverage option for all kid's meals at restaurants would take effect. The approved beverages would be: non-fat or low-fat milk, water, sparkling water, flavored water with no artificial sweeteners, or an unflavored, or non-dairy milk alternative.

Before Aug. 1, 2024:

  • A new fruit, or vegetable side-item requirement would need to be offered in all kid's meals. One half cup, or more, of fruit, or one half cup, or more, of vegetables would be required. Juices containing 100% fruit juice cannot be substituted for the side-item requirement.

Before Aug. 1, 2025:

  • Minnesota restaurants will be required to include at least one kid's meal that meets all of the previous standards and additional requirements. The additional requirements are: One ounce, or more, of lean meat or lean protein substitute, like skinless chicken, fish, seafood, eggs, tofu, or other soy products; and one-half serving of a whole grain-rich food that provides 8-ounces of whole grains.

"The Healthy Kids Meals Bill is a win-win for Minnesota," said Lucas Sjostrom, executive director for the Minnesota Milk Producers Association. "It will help improve the health of Minnesota’s children while supporting the state’s dairy producers."

According to the Minnesotans for Healthy Kids Coalition, an estimated 40% of children are likely to develop diet-related chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, or cardiovascular disease in their lifetime. Sugary drinks contribute to diet-related chronic diseases, which cost Minnesotans more than $3 billion each year in increased healthcare costs.

Organizations supporting Utke's legislation include: The American Heart Association, Allina Health, Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota, HealthPartners, Regions, Minnesota Medical Association, Minnesota Public Health Association, American Cancer Society, American Diabetes Association and the Minnesota Institute of Public Health.