Restaurants take Blue Zones pledge

Published 10:15 am Thursday, July 23, 2009

Big Island Grille & Bar


Green Lea Golf Course Restaurant

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Hy-Vee Catering and Restaurant

Trumble’s Restaurant

Green Mill Restaurant & Bar

Great Grains Market & Café

American Legion

Farmers Market

Pizza Ranch

Piggy Blues Bar-B-Que

China Restaurant


Taco King

Burger King

China Buffet

Albert Lea Medical Center Restaurant


Wedgewood Cove

B & B Café

Nancy’s Café

The Elbow Room


Oak Park Place

Casa Zamora

Jake’s Pizza

Trail’s Restaurant

Lakeside Café & Creamery

Korner Kafe

Georges of Geneva

AARP/Blue Zones Vitality project leaders on Wednesday recognized 30 area restaurant managers who have committed to the project’s restaurant pledge in an attempt to provide healthier food choices to patrons.

This means in the near future, Albert Lea residents can expect to start seeing changes at area restaurants to accommodate for healthier options.

Blue Zones Health Initiative Director Joel Spoonheim said restaurant managers were given 12 ideas to consider implementing into their businesses — one of which included coming up with their own ideas.

The other 11 options included changes such as developing at least two new healthy items on the menu, providing smaller portions as a choice, offering a fruit or salad as a side option, and changing the size of their cups and glasses.

“I want to congratulate those restaurant managers for their role in helping people live longer and better,” said Dan Buettner, co-director of the Vitality Project. “Now it is up to patrons to choose healthier options, which will encourage restaurants to help Albert Lea transform as a community.”

Area restaurants began participating in the Vitality Project months ago with the help of national experts Brian Wansink of the Cornell Food Labs and professor Leslie Lytle of the University of Minnesota, who is a nutrition expert. These experts offered workshops for Albert Lea restaurants on simple ways to make subtle impacts that will improve health.

Cathy Purdie, marketing director at Trail’s Restaurant and a volunteer of the initiative, shared some of the changes that are already in place at her restaurant.

Purdie said from the start when the idea surfaced, she had a few potential ideas to implement into the restaurant. She wanted to bring new food options.

So far, the restaurant has added an insert that goes into the menu, which highlights some of the healthier options on that menu. The restaurant is also offering fruit as a side option and has printed out coloring sheets for children from that can stimulate nutritional conversation at the table, she said.

“We have been super excited to be a part of the AARP/Blue Zones Vitality Project,” Purdie said.

Lakeside Café & Creamery owner Steve Tubbs described some of the changes already in effect at his business.

Tubbs said Lakeside now offers fruit kabobs as an option instead of chips, has revamped the tuna salad recipe and developed a new recipe for a fruit and turkey wrap.

“I’m thrilled to be a part of the program,” he said. “People like to see the new ideas.”

Spoonheim said residents should go into these restaurants and ask about the changes the managers are making to the environment of the restaurant or to the menu. A lot of times if a healthy choice is an easy choice for people, they will make that choice, he said.

Jacob and Lupe Zamora of Casa Zamora said they’re excited for the restaurant changes.

Jacob Zamora said he and his wife already have a few ideas they want to implement, but they want to take it slow to see how their customers respond.

Oak Park Place Director Joyce Nixon said several changes have been made recently in her facility’s dietary department to offer the residents more fruits and vegetables, whole grain breads, the option of smaller portions or less meat and reduced carbohydrates.

The residents have responded favorably to the additional options.

“They like it,” Nixon said. “They like being involved and knowing that they count and that their opinions matter.”

Nixon said health starts with what people put into their bodies.

Each of the restaurants that have signed the pledge received a certificate of recognition Wednesday.

Purdie and the other initiative leaders encouraged the rest of the restaurants in town to follow suit.

Buettner said thus far 2,100 adults have taken the Vitality Project pledge and the Vitality Compass, which would add up to 3,500 people including children of those adults.

But there’s still a lot of people in the community who have not been reached, he said. One of the ways to reach that group of people is through making changes to the city infrastructure and schools — and to restaurants.

“These little pledges you’re signing make a huge difference,” Buettner said.

For information about participating as a restaurant in the Vitality Project, people can contact Purdie by phone at 379-2606 or by e-mail at