Huckleberry Coulis, Goat Cheese Coming to U.S. Nat'l Parks: 'This is About Choice'

By Penny Starr | June 6, 2013 | 7:47 AM EDT

'Crisp Filo, Goat Cheese with Caramelized Pecans, Huckleberry Coulis and Organic Watercress' was served by Stefan Larsson, executive chef at Yellowstone National Park, on June 5, 2013 on the National Mall. ( Starr)

( - How about some goat cheese with huckleberry coulis and organic watercress after you've worked up an appetite by hiking in a national park? Or maybe some juniper-smoked bison with arugula?

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced on Wednesday that as part of a new "Healthy Parks, Healthy People" initiative, America's national parks will offer visitors a greater variety of nutritious foods.

“Today, as part of the administration’s efforts to promote healthier choices, we are adding yet another reason to visit our national parks and increasing the number of healthy food options available to visitors at parks from coast to coast."

Jewell said the new initiative is in line with President Barack Obama’s “commitment to health and well-being” and First Lady Michele Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign to fight childhood obesity.

I want to emphasize this is about choice,” National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis said at the event on the National Mall, where chefs from park concessions around the country cooked up samples. “American people like their choices."

But while visitors may have a choice, vendors do not: Concessionaires who renew their contracts with the government will be required to include at least two “healthy” options, according to Kathy Kupper, spokesperson for the Park Service. Vendors with existing contracts will follow the new guidelines on a voluntary basis until the contract comes up for renewal.

Executive chefs from national parks around the country prepared some of the offerings at an event on June 5, 2013 to announce new guidelines for park food vendors. ( Starr)

Jarvis said the changes don't mean park visitors must eat healthy food. Traditional fare such as hot dogs and chicken tenders will still be available from food vendors who already sell those items. But, added Jarvis, “There’s no reason to take a vacation from eating well when you visit a national park.”

Gerry Gabrys, one of several National Park food vendors attending the event, said customers want healthier foods.

Some of the fare served at Wednesday's event included “Free-range Chicken Breast with Sweet Potato Cake and Fennel Salad,” “Crisp Filo, Goat Cheese with Caramelized Pecans, Huckleberry Coulis and Organic Watercress,” “Juniper Smoked Bison Strip Loin with Arugula and Low-fat Horseradish Crème Fraiche,” and “Griddled Cumin-Scented Chesapeake Bay Seafood Taco.”

Those entrees are more likely to be served at restaurants in some of the bigger national parks, such as Yellowstone and the Shenandoah.

The new healthy food standards and sustainable food guidelines are spelled out in detail in a six-page document.

In addition to providing more nutritious food options, the National Park Service is encouraging park food concessions to incorporate locally grown or raised items, when available.

The new guidelines include the following:

-- 30 percent of beverages should have no added sugar.

-- Offer half servings or reduced portion servings when possible such as when items are prepared in bulk like pasta and soups and are served to order.

-- Offer coffee that is fair-trade certified and shade grown.

-- Where seafood option are offered, provide only those that are “Best Choices” or “Good Alternatives” on the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch list, certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council, or identified by an equivalent program that has been approved by the National Park Service.

-- For grab and go food establishments, ensure that healthier options are placed where they are noticeable and likely to be purchased.

-- Do not offer fried items as “specials” or “featured” items.

The guidelines will help the National Park Service meet "Action Goal #8 – Eat Well and Prosper,” the text states.

“Providing additional choices is good for our customers and good for our business,” said Gabrys, CEO of Guest Services, Inc. “All of us have seen a growing consumer demand for healthy food and we are committed to meeting the needs and desires of park visitors while keeping prices affordable.  The new guidelines include many efforts already underway by the industry and reflect the close collaboration and positive partnership we enjoy with the National Park Service.”