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Mom on a Mission



Like many Americans, Diane Schmidt and her family like to dine out. But last year, Schmidt found herself fed up with what was on the menu for her 10 year old daughter.
“I would just look at these offerings they had, and just get so frustrated and angry that the worst food on the menu was always on the kids’ menu,” Schmidt says. 
So Schmidt — who has a background in public health and marketing and went to culinary school — decided that she would use her skills to change things. 
Schmidt launched Healthy Fare for Kids, a fast growing grassroots initiative in Chicago that works alongside local restaurants to improve the nutritional quality of kids’ menus. With guidance from James Beard Foundation award-winning chef Sarah Stegner and holistic nutrition consultant Carol Wagoner, the initiative has created simple nutritional guidelines for restaurants to follow when crafting meals for children.
Restaurants that follow the guidelines — which include not providing bread before meals, reducing portion sizes and serving more fruits and vegetables — can place the Healthy Fare for Kids logo on their kids’ menus, letting parents know the items are nutritious. 
Since the initiative’s launch in December, 26 restaurants have pledged to follow the nutritional guidelines, and several have already implemented changes. Schmidt and her team will soon reach out to about 130 Chicago area chefs to recruit others, and organizers are aiming to eventually implement the program nationwide. 
Schmidt isn’t the first to work with restaurants to make menus healthier, of course. The National Restaurant Association has a similar childhood obesity campaign, and Darden Restaurants — the parent company of chains such as Red Lobster and Olive Garden — announced it would improve its kids’ menus at a press event last year headlined by First Lady Michelle Obama.
But Healthy Fare for Kids differs in that it is a purely grassroots initiative targeting independently run neighborhood restaurants and local chains.
“It’s all about learning and promoting good eating habits early on, because that’s when you learn them,” Schmidt says.
The nutritional guidelines aren’t meant to restrict what parents can order for their kids, but rather put forth healthy options first to help kids make smart choices, Schmidt adds.
For example, Schmidt and her family regularly eat at Nookies, so much so that she calls it “our second kitchen.” Before the initiative launched, Nookies served unhealthy fare on its kids’ menus, such as chocolate chip pancakes. After signing onto Healthy Fare for Kids, Nookies completely redid its kids’ menu to make it more nutritious.
“What we’re saying is that they can have the chocolate chips, and they can have the whipped cream. But don’t offer it to them initially,” Schmidt says, adding that Nookies has “really done a fabulous job with their menu.”
Restaurants generally are receptive to making changes, Schmidt says, noting it only took two weeks to see positive changes at Ditka’s, the restaurant owned by Chicago Bears legend Mike Ditka.
“I just give these people so much credit, and they’re sticking with it,” Schmidt says. “It’s just story after story of these restaurants really stepping up.”