Parents help kids eat smart at new DuPage Children’s Museum café
By Lara Krupicka For The Sun January 28, 2013 12:48PM
Christina and Joshua Sanchez of Naperville place an order at the S.M.A.R.T. Cafe DuPage Children's Museum in Naperville. Mary Beth Nolan~For Sun-Times Media
On the Web
For more information about the DuPage Children’s Museum, check them out on the web at http://www.dupagechildrens.org.
Updated: March 1, 2013 6:50AM
The DuPage Children’s Museum’s new SMART Café opened earlier this month and already has parents planning their visits to the museum differently.
“It worked out well,” says Mike Schoenfeld of Woodridge, who took the day off to bring his daughter, Nina, to the museum. “It’s easier to pop down here and have something good and fresh, than to try and get out of here to grab lunch.”
The new café replaces a dining area that formerly featured limited table seating and a vending machine — a sufficient stop for a snack break or for eating a sack lunch from home. But patrons wanted the option to purchase fresh meals while at the museum. Now they’re not getting simply fresh food, they have a whole menu of health-focused choices.
“This is about our visitors,” says Kimberly Stull, director of operations for the museum. “It’s about providing them something really good and healthy for their families.”
Museum staff, which includes a dietician, spent several years researching what foods they wanted to offer and which vendors could give them the health-conscious options their patrons deserve. They consulted chefs, restaurant industry experts and other museum cafes. And they took their time to define what a café within DuPage Children’s Museum should and shouldn’t look like.
“We didn’t want it to be hot dogs and pretzels and pizza,” Stull says.
What they came up with is a menu that matches common dietary preferences of young families — nut-free, nitrate-free, with no harmful preservatives or antibiotics.
They also offer gluten-free and vegetarian options. And every item meets high standards for quality and flavor, provided by vendors like Labriola Bakery and Boar’s Head premium lunchmeats.
Nina has one word to describe the macaroni and cheese brought fresh and hot to her table, “Yummy!”
Families can still bring their sack lunches to the café, as some were seen doing on a recent afternoon, or they can supplement food from home with drinks and sides from the café.
Having this flexibility shows the museum’s awareness of the budgetary and dietary challenges families face.
And Stull emphasizes all menu items can be customized, acknowledging that some family’s dietary requirements may be very specific, such as children with both gluten-free and dairy-free needs.
Because it’s a café within a museum, staff were careful to include design elements consistent with the museum’s mission. The name SMART Café reflects this mission.
The acronym stands for areas of learning reflected throughout the museum: Science, Math, Art, Reading and Technology. Large, colorful displays in the café help parents connect food to those disciplines and encourage them to bring the learning along on their meal or snack stop.
The café design also includes a well-lit, open refrigerated case with healthy drinks and sides displayed at kid height, making it easy for children to take part in choosing their meal.
You might think the nutritious choices come at a high price, but café planners were careful to make meals affordable and comparable to high-quality full-service chain restaurants.
A children’s pick-three combo includes a healthy drink, a lunch entrée such as gluten-free cheese quesadillas or hot sandwich plus one nutritious side like carrots and ranch dressing, or organic fruit snacks, and costs $5.50.
All that and it tastes great. David Newell, better known as Mr. McFeely of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, visited the café last week while preparing for a museum event. When asked about the food, he gave the vegetarian wrap a hearty approval.
Now that’s SMART!