A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending Taste of Chicago. (What, Chasing the Taste went to Taste of Chicago? How unlikely!) As a lifetime resident of the Chicagoland area, I’ve long since enjoyed checking out the Taste because 1) it has plenty of food options, 2) all of those food options are conveniently located in the same place , and 3) I love supporting this Chicago annual tradition. (Fun Fact: I actually worked at the Taste at Aunt Diana’s Old Fashioned Fudge in 2010. So, if you happened to have dropped by for a frozen banana that year, there’s a good chance I asked you if you wanted it with or without nuts!) Anyway, in recent years, I’ve become a lot more health-conscious. It’s not that I won’t indulge in a cheesecake on a stick from Eli’s or a slice of my favorite Lou Malnati’s, but I do like to maintain a more balanced lifestyle. So, this year, I was more excited than usual because I learned of Humana’s Healthier Choices program and now I feel silly for going to the Taste for so long and not knowing about this awesome opportunity. Nine years ago, Humana began the Healthier Choices program to encourage Taste of Chicago-goers to consider some of the healthier-yet-equally-delicious food options. Really, it makes complete sense that an insurance company would want to promote everyone to be healthy, right? Humana created a panel of physicians and nutrition experts, who analyzed the calories, saturated fat, sodium, and other ingredients to determine which food items at the Taste met the criteria to be deemed a “healthier choice.”
In 2016, the Healthier Choices program expanded and a whopping 75 food items from29 restaurants at the Taste were part of the Healthier Choices program. When you do the math, that means that 40% of the restaurants participating at the Taste of Chicago this year had at least one healthier menu item choice. Clearly, Humana isn’t the only one on the healthy bandwagon here! If the success and longevity of this program are a clear indication that people increasingly are interested in a healthy lifestyle rather than a bandwagon (that you can fall off of).
I arrived on Wednesday as soon as the Taste of Chicago opened and headed straight for the Humana tent, which was huge and super easy to find. I had been carrying around an umbrella and heavy rain jacket on my commute over because it had been rainy, but our classic Chicago weather threw me for a loop. The clouds gave way to a blazing hot sun, which was perfect for all the refreshing, fresh menu items I was excited to try, but a death sentence for my practically translucent ivory skin. (Shoutout to Steve at the Humana tent who was a GODSEND and shared some of his sunblock with me because I would have been in trouble!)
I followed the signs that led me to sign up for the Humana Healthy Choices rewards program. I received a Healthier Choices tag with a Humana lanyard with six spaces for initials for staff to sign off on my participation. All participants who completed a total of six “Healthier Choices” (whether completing educational activities in the Humana tent or choosing to order food labeled with a green “H” throughout the Taste) were eligible for a drawing to win fun prizes. I also received a helpful list of all the 29 restaurants with Healthier Choices on their menus, as well as whether the item was a taste or full-sized portion. Word to the wise: When you arrive at Taste of Chicago, take an initial stroll around all the stands to see which restaurants are actually participating that day. There were a few places I had been looking forward to trying, but didn’t realize until I arrived on Wednesday and couldn’t find Pork & Mindy’s anywhere that it wasn’t coming to the Taste until Friday. I may or may not have made that rookie mistake!
Before venturing off, I hung out at the Humana tent, where I guessed if there was more sugar in cereal or yogurt (in case you’re wondering, it’s yogurt), colored on the beautiful Healthier Choices mural, got a free picture taken in their booth, and got a free jump rope, too.
I’m an organization nerd, so before making any purchases I walked around the Taste while consulting my list of 75 “Healthier Choices” to see figure out exactly where I wanted to go. I decided to start with savory lunch items, then move on to sweet items. First up was Farmer’s Fridge, which has locations throughout Chicago. I’d been itching to try Farmer’s Fridge for quite some time now because it employs the awesome concept of vending machines + fresh, healthy food. I may be biased, but a salad in a mason jar that I didn’t need to prepare myself ahead of time is pretty great. Basically, Farmer’s Fridge makes healthy food fast and affordable, which are two of my own stumbling blocks sometimes in choosing to eat healthy food. I may or may not have been tempted to blow all of my tickets here!
I took note that the chili lime watermelon and avocado toast were listed with a green H signifying their inclusion in the Humana Healthier Choices program. The staff were happy to initial my name tag and hook me up with the avocado toast. One bite and I was in heaven! I have a thing for avo toast/avocado in general. (Who else is with me on this?!)
Next up, I decided I wanted to be a little adventurous. One of the things I’ve always loved about Taste of Chicago is that it provides an opportunity to taste different menu items outside of your comfort zone with little financial obligation. If I order something that cost four tickets and I end up not enjoying it, then it’s hardly a loss compared to dropping $$$ on the same item when going out to eat. I was initially worried that all the Healthier Choices were going to be carrot sticks or something, but there was actually a huge amount of diversity. (I even showed my decidedly health food-averse sister the list of options and she assumed it was the regular full list of items for the Taste. She didn’t even notice!) The desire to try something new led me to Arami.
Arami had a one-day pop-up at the Taste this year, so I lucked out by going the one day they were there. I’ve been wanting to try this acclaimed contemporary sushi restaurant for quite some time, so I was definitely excited to see this pricier restaurant participating. (If you’re interested, check out this West Town restaurant here!) I ordered the seaweed salad and immediately after I had a definite “omgI’mgoingtoregretthis” moment. But one bite and my taste buds EXPLODED. The seaweed salad was the perfect refreshing complement to my meal and had a great sesame flavor. I set up camp by the Buckingham Fountain and savored every last bite of this generously-portioned dish. I was definitely proud of myself for going outside of my comfort zone because I am now officially a fan of seaweed salad (at least if Arami is making it)!
In the spirit of going outside my comfort zone, I decided I would try African food for the first time. I was pleasantly surprised to see a few African restaurants participating in the Taste this year. (I say surprised because I was previously not familiar with any African eateries in Chicago.) I love, love the diversity of cuisines at the Taste every year and this year was no exception. Emboldened by the success of the seaweed salad, I decided to give Vee Vee’s African Restaurant a try. I ordered the taste portion of the plantains with the rice, which was an excellent choice. The sweetness of the plantains was perfectly complemented by the savory and slightly spicy rice. Vee Vee’s is located in Edgewater (you can connect with them on Facebook here).
Last, but certainly not least, I ended my tour of the Taste with dessert. There was no way in heck I was leaving without a chocolate-covered strawberry from The Fudge Pot and it definitely did not disappoint. I barely snapped this photo before the chocolate started melting like crazy and I popped it into my mouth! Chocolate-anything and I’m a very happy girl, so I was very pleased to see it fulfilled the nutrition requirements to be a Healthier Choice.
I did it! After collecting all the initials, I headed back to the Humana tent, where a volunteer cheered me on for finishing the program, entered me into the raffle, and gave me a super-cool VIP tag for completing the program. It kind of reminded me of a finisher’s medal after completing a race. Now that I know about Humana Healthier Choices, I definitely plan on making this a tradition for the Taste of Chicago each year. What a great way to indulge, yet still stay on track with my balanced lifestyle!
Have you ever been to the Taste of Chicago? What are your favorite foods you’ve tried there? Also, who else has participated in Humana’s Healthier Choices program? Let me know in the comments!
“The information and Taste tickets have been provided by Humana so that I could try some of the Humana Healthier Choices and share my thoughts and information about these items. The opinions expressed in this post are my own and do not reflect the opinions of Humana.