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If you're in Acadia National Park this summer, you might try the famous popover at Jordan Pond House Restaurant, or in Yellowstone, a big tasty bison burger. What you might not find are a lot of healthful options. Well, the park service has a new initiative to up its game when it comes to the healthfulness of its food. NPR's Allison Aubrey got a preview tasting of what visitors can expect.
ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Jon Jarvis has been a park ranger for a long time. From Mount Rainier to the National Mall in D.C., he's been wearing the green and gray uniform and ranger hat for nearly 40 years. And for much of this time, one thought run through his mind.
JON JARVIS: You know, if I was in charge, this is what I would do, and so I sort of accumulated a list over those years.
AUBREY: Well, now, Jarvis is in charge. He's the director of the National Park Service. And when it comes to changing things up, food has been near the top of his list. Jarvis says he visited too many parks where the concessions left him wanting.
JARVIS: You know, it was pizza or hotdogs or something, and nothing wrong with those foods, but I wanted more options and more healthy choices.
AUBREY: And now, he's getting them. From Yellowstone to the Shenandoah, park food is getting a makeover.
STEVEN STERRITT: These are fresh jumbo lump Maryland crab, and it's got a roasted garlic bechamel sauce folded in with it, and that's it. It's pure crab, no filler at all.
AUBREY: New guidelines announced this week require the companies that run food and beverage operations in national parks to up their games when it comes to offering wholesome and sustainable options. And chef Steven Sterritt, of Skyland Resort in Shenandoah National Park, is leading the way. What makes this new or different?
STERRITT: New or different is just our new approach on things, you know? Simple cuisine, you know, for the (unintelligible), the main ingredients speak for itself.
AUBREY: Now to give a sampling of what national park visitors can expect, the Park Service set up a big food tent along the National Mall this week and invited chefs from across the country. Stefan Larsson, a native Norwegian, is executive chef at Yellowstone National Park, which has multiple eateries.
STEFAN LARSSON: We are changing to a healthier fare, of course.
AUBREY: And local ingredients are getting bigger play. Larsson points to seasonal berries, local cheeses and, of course, local meat.
LARSSON: We have the bison here, smoked with juniper berries. Here we have rhubarb gazpacho.
AUBREY: Can I taste the bison? Larsson says bison tends to be lower in fat than beef, and he likes the flavor. Oh, wow, that is fabulous. What is the sauce?
LARSSON: That's fresh horseradish and a low-fat sour cream.
AUBREY: To usher in the national park food initiative, the White House sent over Sam Kass, who heads up the first lady's Let's Move! campaign. He was served an almond-crusted chicken tender with a fennel salad.
SAM KASS: You know, baked is the new fried, so that looks absolutely delicious. That's really innovative. Yeah, yeah, I would love to taste that.
AUBREY: Kass says it's significant that the national parks are helping to make healthy choices the easy choices.
KASS: That baked chicken tender is absolutely delicious.
AUBREY: So does this new initiative mean that park visitors will pay more not for basic concession stand food, but the Park Service says even the newer offerings will still be affordable. Rick Abramson, president of Delaware North, which runs eateries at Shenandoah National Park, says this could be really good for his company's bottom-line.
RICK ABRAMSON: We're a commercial company, OK? We're in it to make money. And, you know, what the market wants is what we deliver.
AUBREY: Abramson says there is demand for these new options. He's sure of it. It doesn't mean taking away old favorites. The strategy here is to add healthier options to the mix. Allison Aubrey, NPR News, Washington.