California Wants to Ban Kids’ Meals Offering Children Juice, Chocolate Milk

Child chocolate milk (Justin Sullivan / Getty)
Justin Sullivan / Getty
Newport Beach, CA

California’s Democrat-controlled legislature could pass a bill that would ban restaurants from offering kids’ meals that include fruit juice or chocolate milk.

The “Children’s Meals” (SB-1192) bill passed the California State Senate in May by a vote of 32 to 7, passed out of the Assembly Health Committee with a bipartisan vote of 8 to 0, and is now headed for a floor vote. If Gov. Jerry Brown signs the legislation into law, California will be pioneering another major regulatory expansion.

The bill amends the “California Retail Food Code” to empower “Environmental Health Officers” to require that restaurants that sell children’s meals at a set price must restrict the “default beverage” to: a) water, sparkling water, or flavored water, with no added natural or artificial sweeteners; b) unflavored milk; or c) a nondairy milk alternative that contains no more than 130 calories per container or serving.

Restaurants would not be prohibited from selling, and customers would be not be prohibited from buying, an alternative drink to the regulated “default beverages.” But restaurants would be banned from advertising an alternative with any kids’ meal.

Assemblyman Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) declared at a committee hearing on June 19 that the State of California has a duty to combat obesity and diabetes by limiting how much soda Californians drink. McCarty raised a jar containing what he claimed was 9.5 teaspoons of sugar to illustrate the added sweetener in a 12 ounce can of soda, according to the Calmatters website.

Democrats led by Bill Monning (D-Carmel) failed four times between 2010 and 2014 to slap a statewide “soda tax” on all sweetened fruit juices, teas, sports drinks, and soda — ostensibly to generate $2 billion in “revenue.”

Despite years of lobbying pushback against the “soda tax,” the American Beverage Association and major grocery chains have not been actively opposing the “Children’s Meals” bill. The only organized criticism has come from libertarians, who complain the bill is another effort to empower government to interfere in what should be parental decisions.

The California Restaurant Association has not taken a position on the bill, but has endorsed the American Beverage Association guidelines that advocate for elementary schools to offer only water, milk ,and 100 percent juice for school lunches and snacks.

McDonald’s discontinued advertising sodas with Happy Meals in 2013, and removed chocolate milk as a default beverage option in February of this year. The only Happy Meal default beverages currently available are plain low-fat milk, or an apple juice-based drink that only has half the sugar content of 100-percent pure apple juice.

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