As dining trends shifted toward more healthful, nutritious food over the last several years, the National Park Service (NPS) took notice. The Healthy Food Standards were implemented in 2015 in concert with the Obama administration’s focus on tackling childhood obesity. Today, concessioners in Virginia’s National Parks are continuing to make changes to their menus to provide options that meet these standards of health and nutrition.
The Healthy Food Standards have three primary criteria that must apply to at least two of a concessioner’s menu items: calorie content, fat content and sodium content. There are also minimum requirements for the entire menu regarding whole grains, fruits and vegetables, sugar content in beverages, portion sizes and frying practices.
These standards are a requirement for any new contracts with concessioners, and they can be voluntarily adopted by concessioners in existing contracts. “If they’re voluntarily adopting the Healthy Food Standards, that may influence their ability to get a superior performance rating,” explains Kurt Rausch, who developed the standards and serves as chief of contract management for the NPS Commercial Services Program.
Hospitality management company Guest Services, Inc. (GSI) oversees the three food and beverage operations in Northern Virginia along the George Washington Memorial Parkway: the indulgent Triple Craft on Dangerfield Island offering craft burgers, shakes and beer; the waterfront Island Time Bar and Grill at the Columbia Island Marina with a coastal-inspired menu; and the kiosk at Great Falls National Park with grab-and-go fuel for hikes.
When the standards were first implemented, GSI voluntarily opted in. “Guest Services has done a lot of innovation in terms of healthy food and sustainable food,” Rausch says. “They thought it was good for the public; they wanted to be good partners with the NPS.”
Their first iteration of healthful offerings was called Fit Picks, with choices like fresh fruit, hummus and fat-free Greek yogurt. “What we’re working to do is punch up the menu items in that Fit Picks section to prepare them to now be rolled out under what we’re calling our GoBeFull health and wellness program,” says Scott Shepherd, vice president and chief commercial officer for GSI.
The acronym stands for greens, oils (focused on healthier alternatives such as olive oil), beans, exercise, fruit, unrefined grains, lean protein, and labels. “It’s a way to consolidate all the research on disease prevention and health promotion,” explains GSI’s registered dietitian Judy Caplan, who is spearheading the program.
While healthy options like vegetarian burgers, sandwiches and salads already exist at each of GSI’s locations, the GoBeFull offerings debuting this summer will provide more variety.
“We are reformulating these to include more fresh produce, whole grains and other items that meet the GoBeFull criteria,” Caplan says. “We continually offer healthier specials like quinoa layered salad and different snack options like Naked Juice, fruit bars, popcorn, KIND Bars and Sahale nuts.”
Caplan feels that GSI is well on the way to meeting the NPS Healthy Food Standards. “We’re already serving whole grains. We’re already serving plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. We don’t use hydrogenated oils. We have a lot of healthy oils and nuts and snacks,” she says. “You can find something that as a concerned parent you would want to feed your child…other than the standard chicken nuggets and hot dogs.”