New initiative to eat healthy at local restaurants

on American eating habits show that we eat out about four times a week.

Serving sizes at restaurants are typically much larger, fattier and saltier than you would plate up with a home-cooked meal. That is part of the reason the obesity rate is nearly 40 percent in Southwest Louisiana.

The Dare to Be Healthy Initiative, funded by a grant from Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation, has launched "Eat Healthy SWLA" to help you make healthier choices at local restaurants.

In a state that is known for its great food, Louisiana also tops the list as one of the unhealthiest. But there is a plan to change that, starting in local restaurant kitchens. "We're going to insert a whole page into the Southwest Louisiana concept of eating healthy," said Chad Jackson, executive chef at the Lake Charles Country Club.

Jackson says when he found out about the Eat Healthy SWLA initiative to slim down local restaurant options, he shared his vision with registered dietitian Taylor Rossi. She says it is a team effort to make some healthy menu tweaks. "They sit down and give us their recipe and their ingredients. Then, we go back to our food processor analysis system and analyze them," said Rossi. "From there, it breaks down to every ingredient that you want and then we go back to them and tell them okay this fits, but if you decrease this, it will fit even better."

To get the Eat Healthy SWLA stamp of approval, entree options must be under 600 calories, less than 800 milligrams of sodium and less than 10 percent saturated fat. There are extra guidelines for appetizers, soups, salads and desserts.

Jackson's staff has already rolled out new options like seared ahi tuna and a black bean burger.

Luna Bar & Grill, Delta Downs and Gatti's Pizza are also offering healthier options - and have the Eat Healthy SWLA yard sign to prove they meet the criteria.

Jackson says healthier meals are not boring or less flavorful - they get back to the roots of good eats without the guilt. "When it's local and it's fresher and it's seasonal, it's really a get out of its way type thing.  The product speaks for itself," he said.

If you are a restaurant owner interested in participating, click here for more information.
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