How one New York City Council Member is paving the way for healthier kids meals in restaurants

We’ve all heard the terms food desert or food swamps, where healthy food choices are not available. One local council member is looking to change that by introducing legislation that promotes healthy options on restaurant kids’ menus. The bill is Intro 1202 and this bill would mandate that the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene create regulations pertaining to the identification and advertising of the meals that comply with specific dietary criteria, and it would require that a restaurant’s children’s menu include at least two meals that meet those standards. Additionally, this bill would lower the serving size of juice that restaurants may serve with children’s meals and ban flavored milk from being served in conjunction with them.

The American Heart Association Advocacy supports this legislation and believes it’s time to address the chronic problem of food insecurity in the New York City. We were there at City Hall in September with Council Member Kevin Riley from the Bronx District 12 to introduce his bill that addresses the pressing problems related to the kid’s menu in New York City restaurants.

Kibin Alleyne, host of Open on BronxNet TV in the studio with CM Kevin Riley and Melanie Zuniga, a volunteer for the American Heart Association.

Earlier this month, the American Heart Association organized an interview for the community news channel BronxNet TV and invited bill sponsor CM Riley for an interview by host Kibin Alleyne on the program Open. CM Riley talked about why he introduced Intro 1202. In an effort to raise awareness about the importance of nutrition, especially for parents and children, the American Heart Association also invited Melanie Zuniga, community dietitian at Food Bank for NYC.

As a father, Council Member Riley says his inspiration for this bill comes from taking his own kids out to eat. Like many, he relies on dining out due to busy schedules, and the current children’s menus in restaurants offer limited healthy options. He noticed that as more families go out to eat, having less healthy options for kids could pose some challenges. He wants to see more nutritious options and a kid’s menu that is not just limited to chicken fingers and pizza. This issue is especially relevant in recent times as families in the Bronx face unique challenges, including limited time and financial resources. His home borough of the Bronx continuously ranks last among the 62 counties in New York state in health outcomes, and the majority of families in his borough have someone living with chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension.

Melanie Zuniga then spoke about her role as a community dietician at Food Bank for NYC. She works primarily with families that are affected by diet-related issues such as diabetes, high cholesterol, and heart disease. She says this also tends to affect the children in families as well, which is all the reason for policy and initiatives that focus on prioritizing pediatric nutrition. Zuniga says that by providing parents and children with the options to make healthy diet choices, it reinforces healthy living habits that will sustain their health and longevity.

One particular point that host Alleyne focused on was the truth behind milk. She states we have all grown up believing that milk is healthy for us, so why is it now being regarded as a less healthy beverage on the kid’s menu? Zuniga explains that often the milks offered for children at restaurants are packed with processed sugars and artificial flavorings that are overlooked, but ultimately could be harmful for children’s health. Council Member Riley interjected and said that this is also a critical part of Intro 1202 because healthy beverage choices are often overlooked and this will be able to increase balance in children’s diet, which he says is the main objective of the bill. CM Riley wants to push a healthy lifestyle and remove the barriers that stand between parents providing their children healthy food.

The American Heart Association would like the thank Council Member Kevin Riley, Melanie Zuniga, and BronxNet TV for creating this wonderful forum to discuss a critical issue at the intersection of health and food access in the Bronx. To watch the full interview, click here.