Freshii for fast, healthy & fun

My sons and I try to spend as much time as possible exploring the city, especially in the summer. Lunch can be a problem, though. If I don’t want to spend obscene amounts of money, it seems like we end up eating the worst kinds of fast food. But recently I discovered a much better option at Freshii.

I have never experienced fresher food on the go. With wraps, salads and soups all made to order, it’s a perfect spot to pick up items for a picnic or bench lunch. While Freshii has some standard menu items, it also uses a “build your own” format so you can choose a soup bowl, noodle bowl or wrap and personalize it with your three favorite toppings. The focus is on ingredients low in fat but high in fiber and vitamins. Portion sizes are kept moderate, but so is the price.

Since Freshii recently unveiled a low-price kids’ menu, my sons and I took advantage of the Water Tower Place location to sample the offerings.

Starting with the basic teriyaki noodle bowl, my 11-year-old dressed it up with cilantro, tofu and even some red pepper flakes. I’d love to say I tried it, but he ate every bit. My other boys stuck with the standard chicken soup and quesadilla lunches and found them both delicious. These meals cost under $6. Though I’m not even a vegetarian, I decided to try the vegan wrap (in the spirit of healthy lunch). It was really delicious, filled with enough flavor and texture to make a satisfying lunch.

Freshii has also taken a stand to eliminate much of the paper and plastic waste associated with take-out food. Packaging is trimmed down, and you’ll have to remember to grab utensils and napkins if you need them, because they won’t automatically be thrown in with your order.

This article originally appeared in the June 2012 edition of Chicago Parent. You can find more of my restaurant reviews there. I have added photos  from Freshii’s website for this blog post.
Disclosure: My family was not charged for our meal at Freshii and I was paid by Chicago Parent to write the article. I sometimes receive complimentary services and gifts, but I choose to write only about places I believe will be good for my readers. All opinions expressed are 100% my own.

Kids LiveWell means better options for families

* This post ran originally on chicagoparent.com. I have added photos for alenaslife.

http://www.chicagoparent.com/community/in-it-together/2012/live-well

My oldest enjoying his new hat!

I am one of the lucky ones. My sons do not fall under the category “picky eaters.” Although each has different tastes and preferences, they all pretty much eat a well-balanced diet, including fruits and vegetables. My husband and I have raised them in the school of “everything in moderation” so they enjoy candy, the occasional soda and fast food lunches on weekends. None are obese; nor are they scrawny.

I believe one of the reasons for their well-balanced diets is the fact that we do a lot of cooking at home. We have managed (until recently) to avoid the trap of picking up dinner at the drive-thru or doing fast casual dining several times a week. But now that their schedules continue to get busier and our time at the dinner table seems to disappear more often, I’ve realized just how difficult it is to find quick, healthy, economical food options, especially on the run.

It was with this realization in mind that I jumped at the chance to attend an event hosted by the National Restaurant Association to promote their Kids LiveWell program. Launched in July 2011 with 19 restaurants, the association announced that the count now stands at 96 different brands, with locations in every state.

According to their website, “The Kids LiveWell choices emphasize lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy, as well as meet stringent nutritional criteria.” The dietitians present at the press conference stressed that qualifying entrees must be under 600 calories with less than 35 percent coming from fat, less that 10 percent from saturated fats, and less than 35 percent coming from total sugars. Meals must contain fewer than 770 mg of sodium and contain at least two food groups. This is all excellent news with childhood obesity rates at an all-time high.

For a restaurant to qualify on the Kids LiveWell Plan, they must offer at least one child’s entrée plus a side dish. But a quick look at the menus from participants makes it clear that most places offer even more. Apple fries, fresh steamed veggies and grilled (instead of fried) chicken are becoming more common as consumers (parents) demand better options.

And, in a nod to parents like me who are spending more time on the road and away from home, the restaurant association unveiled a mobile app to help us identify locations and menu items. Free to install and quick to download, the Kids LiveWell app immediately located my position and found 21 restaurants within a few miles of my house that have qualifying entrees. When I tapped a pin, I was taken to the restaurant’s exact address along with a list of menu choices. Terrifically convenient.

As I commit to making healthier choices for myself and for my kids, it’s nice to have restaurants standing by my side.

For a complete list of participating restaurants or more information on the new mobile app, visit http://www.restaurant.org/foodhealthyliving/kidslivewell/index.cfm

Disclosure: I received compensation from the National Restaurant Association’s Kids LiveWell program for my time reviewing and writing about their program. The opinions expressed are solely my own.

My mission to find healthier restaurants

I have been writing about family friendly dining destinations for Chicago Parent magazine for a few years now. I don’t necessarily cover “kids” restaurants, but try to focus on establishments whose menu and ambiance appeal to adults while remaining open to children. It’s a great gig which has allowed my sons and I to eat at many places which we would not have normally chosen. One of these days I’ll get around to making a list of all those places, but all of my stories can be found at chicagoparent.com.

Earlier this year, I received a press release about a Chicago group called Healthy Fare for Kids.

The Healthy Fare for Kids initiative is a grass-roots project seeking assistance from restaurants to offer healthier food for children on their menus.

Our goal is to improve the overall health of children in America, starting with kids in our own back yard. With the rate of childhood obesity escalating at an alarming pace and the City of Chicago surpassing the national rate, we are asking our restaurant neighbors to help with this issue.

We believe that restaurants are partners in helping children make the connection between what they eat, how they feel and the health benefits of nutritionally rich foods. Healthy menu items in restaurants help children make good food choices and continue the life-long journey of being healthy.

Healthy Fare for Kids has partnered with really outstanding Chicago chefs including Sarah Stegner (Prairie Grass Café), Michael Kornick (MK) and Paul Virant (Vie and Perennial Virant). The more I read about the organization and the participating restaurants, the more I have considered trying to focus my Good to Go column on the delicious and nutritious ways families can enjoy dining out. (That’s not to say I won’t include the occasional ice cream stand – but I can find the balance.)

Our first foray in an official Healthy Fare for Kids establishment was brunch at Nookies Edgewater . We loved it and were so impressed by the multitude of options, even within the Healthy Fare standards. If you’re interested in reading that story, you can find it at http://www.chicagoparent.com/magazines/chicago-parent/2012-may/going-places/nookies.

Next week I’m scheduled to attend the National Restaurant Association Show  in Chicago on behalf of Chicago Parent. I am specifically going to learn more about their new initiative Kids LiveWell . Restaurants across the country are recognizing the epidemic of childhood obesity and, apparently, many have made the commitment to offer “healthful” options. I am hoping to find more local places I can visit and write about.

My own sons are pretty healthy eaters, but burgers and fries are always the top choices for my oldest. As I make the commitment to actively scoping out restaurants with better options, my sons have no choice but to go along for the ride. I hope I can get them on board.

Chalkboard Restaurant in Chicago

Last month, we had a lovely Sunday dinner at Chalkboard Restaurant in the city. It was one of those perfect nights when the boys were happy, the food was great, and everything went as planned. My Chicago Parent story is here.

http://www.chicagoparent.com/magazines/chicago-parent/2012-april/going-places/the-chalkboard-restaurant

 It would be simple to say we ate a dinner of tomato soup, mac ‘n’ cheese, steak and whitefish, but that would mean leaving out the critical elements.