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Thanks to Leader, Healthy Meals are Coming to Midway


Airport food doesn’t exactly have the reputation for being the healthiest fare, but travelers visiting Chicago Midway International Airport will soon be able to purchase healthier meals for their children. Leader and health educator Diane Schmidt passes along the news that her grassroots initiative, Healthy Fare for Kids, is working alongside the airport and Premier Restaurant Group to offer certified healthy dishes for kids at 16 airport dining locations. The Healthy Fare for Kids logo will adorn the nutritious meals, allowing parents to pick out dishes that they know are good for their young travelers.

It is the first airport in the nation to have such a program, according to Schmidt.

Schmidt, who has a background in public health and marketing and went to culinary school, launched Healthy Fare for Kids after becoming fed up with the unhealthy options on kids’ menus. Working alongside James Beard Foundation award-winning chef Sarah Stegner, Schmidt created simple nutritional guidelines for restaurants to follow when crafting meals for children.

She then traveled to restaurants in her hometown of Chicago, asking them to offer at least one meal that follows those nutritional guidelines on their menus. Those restaurants that do can put the Healthy Fare for Kids logo on the menu.

“I always wondered why the worst food in restaurants ended up on the kids menu,” Schmidt recalled at a press event to unveil the program at Midway. “Like every parent and every mom, I wanted to raise a healthy kid. But how do parents balance feeding their kids healthy while constantly saying no to very appealing but unhealthy foods that are all around us?”

Schmidt found Chicago’s restaurant community to be largely receptive to her efforts. She recalled in a recent interview with the Inside Track that dozens of restaurants signed onto the initiative within just a few months. Some restaurants went beyond just offering one healthy children’s meal by re-launching their entire kids’ menus to be more nutritious.

Midway joins those restaurants and other Chicago locations, such as the Shedd Aquarium, to offer healthier kids’ meals. Initially, the healthy option at Midway will consist of antibiotic-free turkey on whole wheat bread, grapes and an organic milk box. The meal will be available at coolers located in several airport restaurants, and plans for additional menu items are already underway.

Healthy Fare for Kids’ nutritional guidelines includes pairing a protein with a serving of fruit or vegetables, Schmidt said. If the protein is a meat or poultry, it must be antibiotic-free. The initiative also asks restaurants to serve whole grains, local produce when available and prepare meals with little salt or sugar. Proper portion sizes also are vital, as both children and adults consume up to 50 percent more calories when eating at a restaurant, simply because the portions are bigger, Schmidt noted.

But beyond merely offering healthier fare, Schmidt hopes Midway travelers will find the meals as a way to begin to lead healthier lives.

“Each time our logo is seen, there’s a potential for discussion,” Schmidt said. “And discussions are the first step in changing behaviors. But of course the food they get to eat is very delicious and healthy.”

Click here to connect with Diane Schmidt.