Albert Lea restaurants offer healthier choices

Published 10:15 am Friday, July 9, 2010

Last year, two-thirds of the restaurants in Albert Lea signed the AARP/Blue Zone’s Vitality Project restaurant initiative pledge and made changes to their menus offering healthier choices for their patrons. Those changes meant that 31 restaurants in our community gave diners the easy option to make healthy food choices.

Encouraging results from one restaurant included a 31 percent decrease in french fry sides ordered, combined with an increase in more nutritious side dish choices such as fresh fruit, side salads, steamed broccoli and rice. Another menu change created an option for half-sized meals strategically positioned on the menu next to the full entrée selection, instead of being listed in a separate “low calorie” area. Just the use of this simple positioning technique on the menu translated into a 63 percent increase in the ordering of half-sized portions over the previous year.

Diners from the Albert Lea community abundantly expressed their appreciation for the menu offerings and especially appreciated that local restaurants were working with the Restaurant Initiative Pledge to make it effortless for them to eat healthier when dining out.

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Recently, this year’s Restaurant Pledge was mailed to Albert Lea restaurant managers with a list of 18 different suggestions where they can make a healthier difference at their restaurant. From this list they may choose to implement options such as reducing the size of serving plates, or not automatically bringing a bread basket to the table unless requested by the patron. Other options could include prominently displaying calorie information of the entrees on the menu, offering 1 percent or skim milk as a drink option, or modifying existing menu items with lower fat, salt and sugar content.

As the pledges filter in, we are seeing that many of our local restaurants are already implementing some of these changes. For instance, the majority of sit-down restaurants are offering a salad or vegetable side-dish rather than just French fries. Other common options local eating establishments offer are smaller entrée selections and the elimination of trans fats from food preparation. Additionally, restaurants are routinely changing out the “healthier” menu selections that are lower in fat and calories, so patrons have more choices when choosing to eat light.

According to the National Restaurant Association, 73 percent of adults say they try to make healthier choices when eating out, more than they did two years ago. We are fortunate to have restaurant managers in our community who are listening and responding to our requests for healthier, lighter food options in keeping with our quest to enjoy healthier, longer lives.

For more information on the Restaurant Initiative of the National Vitality Center, visit our website at or contact

Pat Garbisch is the coordinator of the National Vitality Center, which is based in downtown Albert Lea.