By JEFF MEYERS
---- — PLATTSBURGH – A popular North Country eatery has agreed to pilot a new initiative from the Clinton County Health Department that promotes healthier food choices.
Guma’s Restaurant in West Chazy has adopted the Health Department’s Healthy Plates Project by identifying health-conscious meals on the its menu.
Those items, including several grilled-chicken, pork-chop and seafood entrees and salads, were carefully chosen using a variety of nutritional values, such as calories, fat content and protein.
“It’s not a relatively new concept,” said Mandy Snay, supervising nutritionist for the Health Department. “Communities across the country have tried this kind of program, including larger cities and even statewide programs.
“Their success has given smaller communities the confidence to try as well.”
The Clinton County Health Department has been working on a community-wide health initiative that focuses on three broad areas: nutrition, physical activity and tobacco use. The Healthy Plates Program fits nicely into the first of those three initiatives, Snay said.
“More people are eating out today than in the past, and restaurant choices tend to be less healthy than foods prepared in the home” she said. “We are fighting an obesity epidemic, and this program engages a new partner in the community.”
Kayleigh Raville, co-owner of Guma’s and the granddaughter of Carolyn “Guma” Deno, who founded the restaurant 16 years ago, interned in Nutritional Services for the Health Department during the summer and played a major role in bringing Guma’s on board.
“We didn’t have to add anything different to the menu,” Raville said of the restaurant’s process to identify healthier meal choices. “We did alter some of the side dishes and vegetables, and we did add skim milk to the menu.”
Raville spent a lot of time analyzing every selection on the menu, using an online nutritional calculator to determine calorie and fat content, as well as other important nutrients that increase a food’s healthy benefits.
Healthy selections are based on six criteria: they have to have fewer than 750 calories, less than 35 percent fat content, less than 10 percent saturated fat, no transfat, one serving of fresh vegetable and one lean protein.
Healthy choices are identified on the menu by the symbol of a knife, fork and tape measure located next to the option.
Guma’s also has “table tents” displayed on all tables and countertops with information about the Healthy Plates Program and directions on how to find those healthy choices on the menu.
“When people go out to eat for a celebration, they don’t always use caloric information (on menus),” Raville noted. “But when they eat out for necessity, they do watch calories.
“A lot of people (utilizing area restaurants) have been told by their doctors to watch what they eat,” she added. “They deserve the opportunity to go out to eat once in awhile and to have choices their doctor would approve.”
And that is one reason Guma’s was an exciting choice as the pilot for the program, Snay noted.
“When you have a popular family restaurant that is owned by a family from the community, that can only be an encouragement for other restaurants to jump on board as we move forward into 2013,” she said. “Our goal is to develop a full program across the county.”
The Health Department would also like to develop some kind of incentive program to help area restaurants become involved in the program, she said.
Jerry Deno, co-owner of the restaurant and Raville’s father, said customers have not always come in looking for healthier menu items but have often chosen those even before they were identified.
“The grilled chicken and the grilled trout have always been popular,” he said.
Now, customers at Guma’s can clearly recognize those healthy choices with help from the Healthy Plates Program.
Email Jeff Meyers: firstname.lastname@example.org