Program would expand healthy options on kids' menus

January 6, 2012 10:08:47 AM PST
With kids' menus filled with chicken fingers and pizza, one local mom started an organization hoping to get restaurants to expand their options and commit to guidelines that will ensure healthier eating.

ABC7's Hungry Hound took a closer look at the program.

The program is launching in the 43rd ward, but the goal by springtime is to get restaurants all over the city, to commit to changing their ways..

Especially when it comes to younger diners.

When families dine together, one of the inevitable issues is the quality of the kid's menu. Diane Schmidt had become so annoyed with the usual options of chicken fingers and pizza, she recently launched a program called "Healthy Fare for Kids," which is focusing on restaurants in the 43rd ward, where she lives.

"Because I have a daughter who's 10 and I'm a well-seasoned parent for going out to restaurants, I just got tired of all the meals that were being offered to kids," said Schmidt.

So Schmidt's team came up with a set of guidelines, which they're hoping local restaurants will abide by. Among the recommendations, serve lean proteins or legumes, rather than fattier items; If pasta or bread is in a recipe, keep it whole grain, and thus, packed with nutrients and fiber. Try to serve local or seasonal produce and hold off on putting bread out on the table first, which elevates blood sugar and can lead to overeating. Restaurants must include fruits and vegetables and should not offer soda or concentrated fruit juice. Finally, portion sizes should be considered.

"Kid's stomachs are very small, when you go to a restaurant, usually your portion sizes are double what you would eat at home, and we're trying to curb that," she said.

Schmidt's ally in the battle is chef Sarah Stegner. As co-owner of Praire Grass Cafe in Northbrook, and up until recently, Prairie Fire in the West Loop, she's always had healthier options on the kid's menu. That's partly because she's a parent herself.

"We have always been kid-friendly and we've tried to make it really nutritious, but we added a whitefish on and it sold really well," said Stegner.

Besides whitefish, there's thinly-pounded, all-natural chicken cutlets with Brussels sprouts or a grass-fed, four-ounce filet with batons of bell peppers. Stegner says her colleagues have been surprisingly supportive.

"The chef-driven restaurants have just really stepped up to the plate and wanted to be an example for what you can do with kids in a restaurant in their own creative way, and the neighborhood restaurants we approached have been very excited and come on board," she said.

For more information:

Restaurants already committed to the Healthy Fare for Kids program in the 43rd Ward:

Café Ba Ba Reeba
2024 N. Halsted

Franks 'n Dawgs
1863 N Clybourn Ave.

Mon Ami Gabi
2300 N. Lincoln Park West

340 W. Armitage Ave.

1746 N. Wells St.

North Pond
2610 N. Cannon Drive

Old Town Social
455 W. North Avenue

Perennial Virant
1800 N. Lincoln Ave.

And in the suburbs:

Prairie Grass Cafe
601 Skokie Blvd., Northbrook

4471 Lawn Ave., Western Springs

Healthy Fare for Kids Guidelines

1. Substitute the bread at the table with fresh vegetables

Bread, muffins, crackers or other starchy items can quickly elevate blood sugar, increasing cravings and causing kids to overeat. Let kids hunger be satisfied with the main part of the meal.

2. Ensure some lean protein with the meal

Eating protein is an essential part of the diet and ensures that kids won't feast on only starchy food. Consider a lean cut of meat or an entrée showcasing legumes: both rich sources of protein.

3. Serve whole grain breads and pasta

Choose whole grains for part of your ingredients instead of highly refined products. Whole grains are packed with nutrients and fiber.

4. Use cooking methods that are lower in fat while still retaining flavors

Steer away from serving fried food that is high in fat, saturated fat and calories. As well, avoid all food using trans fat or hydrogenated fats.

5. Keep it local and seasonal

Local produce is fresher, tastier and a great way to get kids engaged in learning about local and seasonal food. It's great for the environment and kids love to be a part of being green.

6. Portion sizes: Keep it simple

Children consume almost twice as many calories when eating food made outside the home. A child's stomach is about the size of their fist, so smaller portions of good food will fill them up and leave them satisfied.

7. Beverage and Dessert

Have kids order flat or sparkling water flavored with vegetables or fruit, even with 100% juice. Or serve non-flavored milk with dinner. Soda and concentrated fruit juice are unwelcomed guests at the dinner table.

Finally, end this healthy dining experience by retooling desserts. If you want to add dessert to the meal, continue the idea of small and seasonal.