Chef Geoff: Changing up the menu for kids

“We have to be better tomorrow than we were today,” says Chef Geoff Tracy, owner of four restaurants and manager at a fifth. While he refers to the service his provides, his words also contribute to a wider picture: a movement to change they way society consumes food.

He has set out a goal to shift the way children think about food. He started off in this movement by helping cook at the Horace Mann Elementary school, across from his restaurant Chef Geoff’s. Tracy works with a science teacher there to demonstrate to kids how yummy healthy food can be. He described how he was able to get 43 out of 44 kids in one class to try what they had made out of arugula, spinach, basil, potatoes and tomatoes — not the usual products on a child’s plate. “If you can connect children to the foods being made, you’re going to end up with children more willing to eat (healthier foods),” said Tracy. After having his own children, he transformed the kids’ restaurant menus with healthier, but also yummier options: salmon, steak, popcorn, sweet potato fries, pineapple skewers and carrot sticks.

Restaurant crew at Chef Geoff's setting up for lunch. Photo by: Samantha Poyser

But Tracy extended his mission further than educating children at the elementary level about healthy food; he decided to try non-processed foods on his young children, starting at 6 months. “I decided instead of feeding them food (with expiration dates) that I would never feed my kids that stuff,” said Tracy. He believes that starting with children so young that this “food revolution” will be an easier and healthier process. While taking his 3-year-old twins to a McDonald’s restaurant for the first time the only  feature they found enticing was the Happy Meal toy, not the greasy fries: his ideas proved success. Tracy and his wife, MSNBC correspondent Norah O’Donnell, wrote a book being published in September, Baby Love, on this theory.

Although it is hard to grow organically and prices aren’t cheap, Geoff believes that as there is a bigger market for organic goods the price will decrease, allowing parents to make better choices for their young ones. But he stresses eating local and seasonal more so than organic. And his hope for stopping the obesity epidemic is echoed in his restaurants. He points out that there is a difference between having a goal and turning it into reality; people’s doubts only motivate him more. Tracy’s goal for his own restaurants is to cook with mostly local foods, and attempts to do so through hiring various  vendors within a 50-mile radius.

Not only does Tracy give back to his community, but also his influence of healthier lifestyles is being spread because of  his passion for his own healthy children, and his inspiration from chefs like Alice Waters at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif. He hopes that first lady Michelle Obama will publicize his upcoming book, since his ideas align with hers, only starting a few years in advance.

Tracy’s goal of shifting views about food is fully in motion, and as he said, “Every great journey begins with a first step.”

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