La. Restaurant Group, Health Department Team Up to Offer Healthy Menu Options

Through an initiative to help people eat healthier, Louisiana restaurants can be recognized as "WellSpots" with nutritious items on their menus.

Louisiana is known for good food—but not necessarily food that’s good for you. To encourage restaurant-goers to make healthy choices, the Louisiana Restaurant Association (LRA) has joined forces with Well-Ahead Louisiana, an initiative of the Louisiana Department of Health, to put healthier options on restaurant menus.

As part of this effort, restaurants can be designated Well-Ahead “WellSpots” by meeting certain wellness benchmarks. These include offering and promoting healthy menu options, listing healthy options on the children’s menu and including low-fat milk or water as the default beverage, and accommodating dietary restrictions.

Restaurants already have been catering to diners’ needs more and more, said Stan Harris, LRA’s president and CEO. The healthy dining options initiative “is just a logical extension of customizing menus based on dietary needs.”

Harris explained, “When a restaurant says no, they are limiting their market capacity. They’ve learned to say yes” to requests for a dish that is grilled instead of fried, or vegetables that are steamed rather than smothered with bacon. By including a healthy option, such as a steamed sugar snap pea, “it becomes more of a routine” for the restaurant and the customer—and it helps restaurants better serve their clients.

“Louisiana is renowned for its food and culture. Unfortunately, we also have the highest obesity rates in the nation and lead the nation in other preventable chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and stroke,” said Melissa Martin, director of the Bureau of Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, in a statement. “In a time when Americans are eating out more than ever, this partnership with LRA is an opportunity to help residents make smarter and healthier food choices.”

Harris noted that the WellSpot designation is not restrictive—it gives restaurants plenty of flexibility about what to offer and how to prepare it. It also includes three tiers, which reflect how many optional benchmarks the restaurant meets. Among them: Having a comprehensive tobacco-free policy.

For a restaurant to become a WellSpot, the owner is paired with a Well-Ahead team member who helps the restaurant meet the benchmarks.

While LRA has more experience dealing with the state health department on regulatory issues than it does on public outreach initiatives, this partnership flowed naturally. “Anytime you can partner with a state entity that has this tremendous oversight—for the health of the people in the state—it just makes sense,” Harris said.

Seventy restaurants have already earned the WellSpot designation.

Allison Torres Burtka

By Allison Torres Burtka

Allison Torres Burtka, a longtime association journalist, is a freelance writer and editor in West Bloomfield, Michigan. MORE

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