Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Delicious nutrition doesn't have to be an oxymoron

Restaurants do their part to offer healthy menus

There was once this popular saying in Louisiana, “If it’s good with a pat of butter, it’s better with a stick of butter.” But with soaring American obesity rates in recent years, that saying isn’t even comically muttered, especially in reference to our rich sauces and our cultural affinity to fry everything from delicious Gulf seafood to cupcakes.
The industry is taking active steps to assist restaurant patrons in making wiser ordering decisions, while still appreciating the need to treat ourselves. While some restaurants don’t always offer a large array of healthy options, we should all take responsibility for what we put in our mouths and how much exercise we partake in each day. Recently, though, restaurants have been doing more.

The National Restaurant Association (NRA) teamed up with Healthy Dining Finder last summer to launch Kids LiveWell—a voluntary program to help parents and children select healthful menu options when dining out. Yesterday at the NRA Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show in Chicago, President/CEO Dawn Sweeney announced that Kids LiveWell restaurant participation has increased to 25,000 restaurants, up from 15,000 in July 2011; a 40 percent increase.

“Participation in the Kids LiveWell program has exploded in a short period of time, with restaurant companies from across the industry eager to showcase their healthful choices,” said Sweeney. “As a result, parents are finding a growing selection of healthful children’s menu options of fruit and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and low-fat dairy products.”

With more than 96 restaurant brands now taking part in Kids LiveWell, many of those have locations in Louisiana such as Chick-fil-A, Applebee’s, Sonic, Burger King, Chili’s, IHOP, Cracker Barrel and Outback Steakhouse.

“We are working to increase Kids LiveWell participation by our independent restaurants to help further their marketing efforts and increase traffic from diners looking for healthy menu offerings,” said Pam St. Pierre, Louisiana Restaurant Association VP of Member Services. “As a mother of three, I consider the healthfulness of everything my children eat. When we dine out at a restaurant, it’s important to me that they have healthy options.”

The Kids LiveWell program benefits both restaurateurs and guests. Participating restaurants get third-party verification and promotional materials for qualified meals and individual menu items. Parents and caretakers get accurate information to help them make informed decisions about their child’s meal. The program also received a 2012 Gold Circle Award by the American Society of Association Executives.

In a recent LRA interview with Baton Rouge’s Jr. Food Critic, a 12-year-old self-professed foodie, Michael Prados shared that he thought restaurants did a really good job offering healthy menu choices and that he tries to consider the healthy aspect of what he orders.

"Many restaurants have made an effort to provide targeted health conscious food options, however without moderate portion sizes, most options are worse than the food they may already serve," said Ben Eckelson, Louisiana ProStart student. "I applaud the effort of restaurants that promote healthier choices."
Registered Dietician Molly Kimball and Chef
Gus Martin review the EatFit NOLA menu at
Muriel's Jackson Square
This week, Ochsner’s Elmwood Fitness Center, along with registered dietitians and several New Orleans restaurants, launched Eat FitNOLA—a partnership that highlights the better-for-you items right on the menu designed to make it effortless for anyone to eat nutritiously, anywhere in the city. With an Ochsner Health System Approved seal, diners at restaurants like Muriel’s Jackson Square, Commander’s Palace and Café Adelaide can easily identify menu items that meets the criteria.

“Our Eat Fit NOLA menu reflects a healthier version of many of our classic New Orleans dishes,” said Gus Martin, Executive Chef, Muriel’s Jackson Square. “We worked especially hard to keep the integrity of the dishes without losing any of the flavor.”

Eat Fit NOLA’s entrée or entrée salad must contain less than 500 calories, less than 600 mg of sodium and less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fats, among others.  Specific criteria for an appetizer, soup, salad or dessert is also included in the program.

“New Orleans is celebrated for its food, but dining at your favorite restaurants doesn’t have to mean ditching your otherwise healthy diet,” said Molly Kimball, Registered Dietitian with Ochsner's Elmwood Fitness Center. “Making smart menu choices certainly doesn’t mean you’re relegated to plain grilled chicken over dry lettuce.”
For information on how your restaurant can participate in Kids LiveWell, contact Pam St. Pierre at (504) 454-2277 or via email.

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