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Local restaurants partner with mayor's office to promote healthy kids' choices

Local restaurants partner with mayor's office to promote healthy kids' choices
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POSTED: Sunday, March 2, 2014 - 9:55pm

UPDATED: Sunday, March 2, 2014 - 10:04pm

Most people have had their fill of king cake by this point, so the timing could not be much better for National Nutrition Month, which began March 1.

In Baton Rouge, the mayor's Eat Healthy BR campaign supports restaurants that make healthy eating a priority, especially for kids.

"You know, it's tough (getting people to eat healthier)," said Jim Urdiales, owner of Mestizo Restaurant, "when we have such good cuisine here in south Louisiana."

Mestizo is one of a handful of local restaurants trying to change that. Mexican food is not known for being healthy, but the menu at Mestizo has added lots of healthy items over the last few years.

"And it just kind of evolved," Urdiales claimed, "just paying attention to how customers reacted to some of the healthier options."

"Very little of my menu even touches butter," he added. "We've moved to a much cleaner way of cooking, with a lot more pan-sauteing, a lot more grilling, and just keeping it very light. I'm using a lot more dried chilis as the flavor instead of so much salt. And so, basically, my entire menu is moved to a cleaner style of cooking."

For National Nutrition Month, the mayor's office is highlighting restaurants that promote healthy eating, especially for kids. The national childhood obesity rate has nearly tripled over the last 30 years. Urdiales acknowledges that that figure is tough to change, because kids can be such picky eaters.

Mestizo's menu has some typical choices, "but we have some of the healthier options," he mentioned, "like just a cup of black beans with a raw avocado, which is basically almost all the nutrition that a child would need in a given day."

Schools have placed healthier items on their lunch menus, and the creation of mobile farmers' markets will help get produce and other fresh food into more homes.

But profit margins may help drive restaurants to expand their selections of nutritious offerings. Urdiales said that ethanol supplies have driven up the cost of beef, and chicken and seafood prices are also high.

"I also think, with higher food costs right now with proteins, it makes sense to kind of experiment a lot more with more of the vegetables," he stated.

So what is good for the customer's waistline might also be good for the restaurant's bottom

For more information about the Eat Healthy BR campaign, including the full list of restaurants participating, click here.

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