Healthy Fare for Kids program launches in Lincoln Park
When I ask Olivia Reingold, a 10-year-old Lincoln Elementary School student, what she’s most likely to order off of a restaurant’s menu, she says, “Things that I know will taste good.”
Which is why chef Sarah Stegner, standing nearby in Alderman Michele Smith’s office in Lincoln Park, stresses the D-word when telling me about a new initiative to promote healthier menu options for kids, a movement that’s taken root in Smith’s 43rd Ward.
“This isn’t just about asking chefs to serve healthy food” to kids, says Stegner, who, along with fellow Ritz-Carlton alum George Bumbaris, opened Prairie Grass Café in Northbrook and started Prairie Fire in the West Loop. “It’s about healthy, delicious food.”
She follows up with this no-brainer: “There’s a much better chance that a kid is going to eat something if you put it in front of them. And if it tastes good, they won’t even think about it. That’s what we want to see happen in restaurants.”
“We” refers to the team behind Healthy Fare for Kids, which asks chefs to offer at least one seasonal and, yes, delicious healthy meal option on their restaurants’ kids’ menus. Olivia’s mother, Diane Schmidt, went to Alderman Smith with a concern about menus in the 43rd Ward: “The crummiest food is always on the children’s menu,” she says. “Something fried, mac ’n cheese.”
Smith referred her to the, on whose board Stegner serves. Along with Northbrook holistic nutrition consultant Carol Wagner, the trio got 14 restaurants to launch the program on December 4. Most aren’t far from Lincoln Elementary School.
But not all are what you’d call take-the-brood chow houses. Old Town Social, a bar, and Perennial Virant are among those on the list. “North Pond’s not going to have a flood of kids coming in,” says Stegner (accurately), but chef Bruce Sherman “understands the importance of being a leader in the community on this issue,” she tells me. “It’s a statement that [North Pond] is a part of this, that he’s behind the movement.”
Smith beams while telling me how her ward’s youngest are first in line. “We want to push this as a competitive advantage for our community. I want to get our residents signed up, and then we’ll spread the word throughout the city.” And quickly, it’s hoped: Healthy Fare for Kids aims to have partner restaurants throughout Chicago by early next year, with a door open to going national.
Nookies Old Town is another resto pulling the better-eating-for-kids bandwagon. On my way out the door, chef Jacob Smith, who opened Nookies’ Edgewater location earlier this year, serves me a generous helping of straight talk. “I see it all the time, with screaming kids: [Parents] give ’em a saltine. Give ’em raisins instead! Plant the seeds of good habits. It’s crazy, this idea of letting your kids eat terribly until they’re 18 and then expecting them to turn around overnight. That’s why we have adults who eat like children, you know? Chicken fingers and fries. No, you’ve got to start from the ground up.”
The message sinks in as easily as my teeth do into one of Stegner’s Healthy Fare entrées: an impossibly tender bite of Tallgrass beef, served with olive oil–roasted root vegetables simply seasoned with chopped parsley, salt and pepper.
Healthy Fare for Kids launched December 4 at 14 area restaurants; more information will be available soon at healthyfareforkids.com. Find better options for young ones on the menus at:
(2024 N Halsted St, 773-935-5000)
(1863 N Clybourn Ave, 312-281-5187)
Goose Island Clybourn Brewpub (1800 N Clybourn Ave, 312-915-0071)
Mon Ami Gabi (2300 N Lincoln Park West, 773-348-8886)
Mörso (340 W Armitage Ave, 773-880-9280)
Nookies Old Town (1746 N Wells St, 312-337-2454)
North Pond (2610 N Cannon Dr, 773-477-5845)
Old Town Social (455 W North Ave, 312-266-2277)
Perennial Virant (1800 N Lincoln Ave, 312-981-7070)
Vie (4471 Lawn Ave, Western Springs; 708-246-2082)
Prairie Fire (215 N Clinton St, 312-382-8300)
Prairie Grass Café (601 Skokie Blvd, Northbrook, 847-205-4433)
R.J. Grunts (2056 N Lincoln Park West, 773-929-5363)
Stanley’s Kitchen & Tap (1970 N Lincoln Ave, 312-642-0007)