Restaurant Responsibilities

How much responsibility does a restaurant have to ensure that healthy options are available for kids and families? At some restaurants, the only healthy item available might be a glass of water and that’s okay, if that’s the sort of establishment they want to be. How about, though, restaurants that try to be “family-friendly” and that offer a “kid’s meal”? Do they have any obligation to make healthy options available, at least as part of the kid’s meals?

Every once in a while, for logistical reasons, we end up eating a one of the malls near us. I always seem to end up standing in the long line for Panda Express, a popular Chinese-style chain of food court restaurants, to get my youngest two their lunch. I also always seem to have the same conversation when it comes time to pay:

Cashier: “What drink would you like for the kids’ meals?”
Me: “Milk.”
Cashier: “I’m sorry. We don’t have milk. What kind of soda do you want?”

At this point, depending on how cranky I’m feeling and how much time I have, I may launch into a diatribe about how bad soda is for kids and how, if they’re going to offer a kid’s meal, they ought to offer a kid’s drink to go with it, or at least offer a lower price for those who don’t want a soda for their kids.

Of course, Panda Express is not required to offer a more kid-friendly (or kid-healthy, anyway) beverage option; they’re not even required to offer a kid’s meal at all. Almost certainly, a bunch of executives in expensive suits sat around a boardroom at some point and weighed the lost business from parents who don’t want their kids drinking soda against the cost of offering milk as an option and decided that the former is the lesser of two evils. And that’s their prerogative.

Or is it? We do, as a society, through our laws, limit businesses — you can’t sell hot dogs made with pork by-products and call them 100% beef. Would it be too unreasonable to say that you can’t call something a “kid’s meal” if you don’t offer a beverage other than sugared fizzy-water? I have to admit, I’m just not sure. What are your thoughts?

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