Today's special at New Bedford restaurants: healthy dining

NEW BEDFORD — New Bedford restaurants and area partners are teaming up to help patrons slim down.
“Healthy Dining New Bedford” is a new initiative of New Bedford Mass in Motion to encourage good eating while promoting the restaurants that make healthy choices easier.
“We are excited about this because it’s an important step in promoting a healthy community,” said Marianne De Souza, the city’s director of public health.
The recipe for participation is simple. Restaurants submit applications and menus to the New Bedford Health Department, indicating how they meet various healthy benchmarks.
These include allowing patrons to substitute a salad or vegetables for fried potatoes, serving some dishes in smaller portions and indicating which menu items are low-calorie or low-fat.
Restaurants also can offer at least two fruit or non-potato veggie side dishes and the option of low-fat or skim milk and can allow diners to order a “half meal to go,” which means only half the meal will be served while the rest will go straight to the doggie bag for take-home.
In return, the restaurants can display a “Healthy Dining New Bedford” decal — a collection of fruits and veggies in a heart — to recognize their efforts.
Hailed by Mayor Scott W. Lang at a ceremony Thursday, the initiative is a timely one, with a 2009 Massachusetts Department of Public Health report finding that more than half of adults in the state were either overweight or obese, along with roughly 25 percent of high school students and more than one-third of 2-to-5-year-olds in the Women, Infants and Children program at risk.
The problem is well established in New Bedford, where DPH figures show higher than state rates of diabetes and deaths from cardiovascular disease.
Healthy Dining New Bedford represents the collaboration of a slew of partners, including a mini-grant from the Greater New Bedford Allies for Health and Wellness and support by the New Bedford Economic Development Council, the mayor’s office, the New Bedford Health Department, the city’s Board of Health and Southcoast Health System.
Kim Ferreira, a registered dietitian at Coastline Elderly Services Inc., reviews applications, Mass in Motion intern Angela Bannister assisted with the project, and a Boston University AdLab created the decal and brochure.
Although others are in the application process, according to New Bedford Mass in Motion coordinator Pauline Hamel, a dozen participants have already been approved, including Cafe Arpeggio, Center Cafe, Churrascaria Novo Mundo, Cork, Destination Soups, Freestone’s City Grill, Ginger Grill, Lebanese Kitchen, Pizan’s NY Style Pizzeria, Rose Alley Ale House, St. Luke’s Hospital and the Waterfront Grille.
Restaurant owners and staff who attended the event stressed that they already offered healthy options but expressed their enthusiasm for the initiative.
Jay Lanagan, a co-owner of Cork, Pizan’s and Rose Alley, told The Standard-Times that signing on was a “no-brainer.”
“America realizes that it’s time to get in shape and that it starts with food,” said Lanagan, who said his restaurants’ patrons will see healthy choices highlighted on the menus.
As for eateries that want to be healthier but don’t really know how, Healthy Dining New Bedford is a great opportunity “because they’ll literally tell you what to do and that could cost money elsewhere,” he said.
At Freestone’s, the initiative has inspired a new menu page, which separately lists healthy options, broken down by calories, according to general manager Joe Costa.
“I think this is great for the city,” said Waterfront Grille owner Kevin Santos, who mentioned new vegetarian dishes his restaurant will soon offer. “The phrase everyone uses is ‘healthy diet, healthy living.'”
Meanwhile, what’s good for the body and mind is also good for business, according to Matthew Morrissey, executive director of the New Bedford Economic Development Council.
With the roster of restaurants in downtown New Bedford having expanded in recent years, this initiative “can continue to build the base of those businesses and … attract more customers into doors,” Morrissey said.
September 16, 2011
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