Earlier this year the Partnership for a Healthier Southwest Louisiana and the Dare to be Healthy Program, made possible by a Challenge Grant from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation, began working with local restaurants to launch a local healthy restaurant initiative that would bring easily identified, healthier options to restaurant menus around the area.
Since then, Eat Healthy Southwest Louisiana has made great strides by entering into partnerships with several local restaurants. Gatti’s Pizza in Sulphur and Lake Charles, Luna Bar & Grill, the Lake Charles Country Club and Delta Downs Racetrack, Casino and Hotel are all now participants in this program aimed at encouraging healthy eating and an active lifestyle to support the fight against obesity.
"Calcasieu Parish has an alarming obesity rate of 37 percent, this is higher than the state and national average,” says Janice Ackley, Dare to be Healthy program coordinator. "Knowing that Americans eat out on average four times per week and spend half their food dollars eating out, we wanted to help make healthier menu options readily available.”
With input from local chefs, restaurant owners, and registered dieticians in the area, a set of Eat Healthy guidelines were developed to determine menu options that are a healthier choice. Other guidelines and environmental strategies were also rolled out to assist Eat Healthy partnering restaurants in helping their diners make smart selections.
"Simple and small changes can make a huge difference,” Taylor Rossi, the program’s registered dietician, says. "We’ve begun the process of making some great changes with our restaurant partners in the area. With their input, we’ve come up with a set of guidelines that are strict enough to make these changes count, but broad enough that restaurants are able to participate without having to change their entire dish or menu.”
In addition to dish-specific guidelines, the program also encourages participating restaurants to extend a healthier option by offering other recommendations, such as "Pack Half.”
"Pack half allows the diner to order a dish and then have the chef pack half of it in a to-go box before even being served,” adds Ackley. "Portion control is huge when it comes to making healthier food choices but it requires will power. Pack half is the perfect way to enjoy a smaller portion of the dish you love without being tempted to eat the entire thing in one sitting.”
Darrel Metoyer, FMP, director of operations for Delta Downs, says they are just getting started with the program, but are excited to be involved. "Eat Healthy is a great extension to a program we were already in the process of putting in place. Everyone from our 700 employee team members to our guests were demanding healthier options so participation in this program is allowing us to enhance and promote some of our healthier options already in place.”
Rocky Keely, owner of Gatti’s Pizza in Sulphur, says many people have wondered how a pizza place can offer healthier options. "It really wasn’t that complicated once we sat down with the dietician and looked at our menu. We just changed a couple of the products we offer and now we are proud to be able to set an example for other restaurants to serve.”
For Chef Chad Jackson at the Lake Charles Country Club, the program was a welcomed offering. "It’s a natural fit for us. We were already being approached by our clientele for healthier, more unique items. We are excited to be expanding our menu to add and create new, healthier options.”
Thanks to the persistence of programs coordinators, Chef Dave Evans of Luna Bar & Grill discovered that many of his existing menu items already fit within the guidelines of the Eat Healthy SWLA criteria. "For us it was as simple as maybe offering a sauce on the side instead of on top of the dish. We are happy to announce that we will soon be adding some healthier options for kids to our menu too.”
Eat Healthy Southwest Louisiana is part of the Dare to Be Healthy Challenge Grant, made possible by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation. It is supported by the Southwest Louisiana Dietetic Association and the Southwest Louisiana Chapter of the Louisiana Restaurant Association.
"We are very excited about what the Eat Healthy SWLA initiative has accomplished as a Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana grantee,” says Christy Reeves, executive director of the Blue Cross and Blue of Louisiana Foundation. "They have been a terrific example of the effort it takes to realize a healthy community.”
For more information or to see a list of participating restaurants, visit www.healthierswla.com.
What Goes into an Eat Healthy SWLA Dish?
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Participating Eat Healthy Restaurants receive one on one consultations from a Eat Healthy registered dietician along with a tool kit complete with Eat Healthy stickers to place next to designated menu items, window clings, informative table tents, a yard sign, training and buttons for servers and much more.
If you are a restaurant owner interested in becoming a partner with the Eat Healthy Southwest Louisiana program, contact Janice Ackley at (337) 478-4822, extension 12 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.