"Why is the worst food in the restaurant always on the children's menu?"
Diane Schmidt wanted to know the answer to this question. No. Diane Schmidt wanted to change the question. More than that. She wanted to obliterate it.
So this mother of a 10-year-old daughter went to her alderman, Michele Smith, who was recently elected to represent the 43rd ward in Chicago. And she asked for help in contacting restaurants in the ward - which encompasses the neighborhoods of Lincoln Park and Old Town - to make their children's menus healthier.
This led Schmidt to Sarah Stegner, the owner and head chef at Prairie Grass Cafe in Northbrook and the recently closed Prairie Fire Restaurant in Chicago. Stegner is also on the board of Green City Market, which sells and advocates for healthy food from local farmers.
This match provided a spark - one that Schmidt and Stegner hope will ignite the entire city.
Schmidt and Stegner's Healthy Fare for Kids initiative launched in December with 11 participating, 43rd ward restaurants who have agreed to put at least one healthy, seasonal and delicious meal on their children's menu. Schmidt and Stegner want restaurants to learn one simple idea: if you cook it, they will eat.
The key to this, for Stegner, is that the foods be delicious.
"You have to offer it and put it in front of kids and if it tastes good and they're willing, it will work," says the chef, who does not serve fries at Prairie Fire.
Stegner says she also recently put a white fish on the children's menu. "I was pleasantly surprised how many kids ordered it."
Stegner, who was a health educator, points out that "we have 15-20 percent childhood obesity of kids who live in the city," and restaurants are a major source of many of their diets. It's not just about serving them good food, it's about "teaching them to eat good food - and what is good food. This is so important for them to be healthy adults."
The program currently has 15 restaurants. And Stegner and Schmidt are reaching out to new chefs all the time.
Stegner said that when she first started calling her fellow chefs, she was "really impressed with the reception" to the idea of creating healthy fare for kids. "Even [restaurants] that aren't really family friendly were open to it and committed and willing.
"I think quite a few restaurants are already aware of the issue and naturally their food is delicious and healthy."
Chefs or restaurant owners interested in participating can email Diane Schmidt at firstname.lastname@example.org. More information, as well as guidelines and possible recipes, can be found at healthyfareforkids.com.