Last Thursday, the 82nd Street Partnership and NYC Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst launched their new “Get Fit” campaign, an initiative that will pair local restaurants with nutritionists to review menus and recipes.
The goal of the campaign is to promote healthier eating habits among patrons without giving up cultural foods and cuisines that residents grew up eating.
“The idea is that people continue patronizing these restaurants, meet their dietary and health needs, and enjoy the foods that are offered in the area,” said Leslie Ramos, executive director of the 82nd Street Partnership.
The BID will work with 18 restaurants to turn over menus to certified dieticians at Elmhurst Hospital, who will then identify ways to make the offerings healthier.
They will take into account calories, fat, sugar and sodium content, as well as whether items should be grilled, fried or covered in high-calorie sauces or gravies.
After making suggestions to the restaurant chefs, the modified items will be added to each restaurant’s “Get Fit” menu, which can be identified with a specific sticker.
The nutritionists will also train restaurant staff on how to help patrons order foods from the “Get Fit” menu and explain why it’s important.
Ramos said after speaking to restaurants within the district and asking them to participate, she found that many were curious about the initiative. She said many didn’t believe their menus had healthy foods simply because they didn’t offer a salad.
One restaurant thought that even though they grill all of their food, Ramos said.
“It made me realize it’s not only about educating the people, but the restaurant themselves,” she said.
She got the idea for the restaurant-hospital partnership after helping her mother, who has diabetes, adjust her diet. Ramos also saw that many residents who suffered from diabetes or other ailments did not know how to eat healthier, and continually made wrong choices.
Ramos’s first idea was for the hospital to train cooks and restaurant staff to make healthy meals, but she soon realized that there were already healthy items on their menus.
“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” she said. “People can eat the food of their countries, they just need to modify quantity or the items they pick.”
Ramos said when she was helping her mother make healthier choices, she found that most of the advice from national organizations didn’t have culturally responsive recommendations. She wanted to “break down” the idea that eating healthy means not eating foods from your culture.
Hopsital CEO Israel Rocha said this campaign aims to make the process of healthy eating simple and easy for consumers.
He noted that the Jackson Heights community faces issues with hypertension, diabetes and even higher rates of obesity. All of those chronic illnesses can be linked to dietary choices.
“If we ask people to change their eating habits substantially, they’re not going to eat salads everyday,” he said. “But if you could show how to eat healthy, and it’s everywhere you look, then we learn how to eat healthier.
“Especially in Queens, our food is our community, and it’s very much who we are and how we celebrate,” Rocha added. “So it’s great to be able to have a celebration of health with our food and culture.”
The hospital executive recommended general tips for eating cleaner, such as reducing sodium and carbohydrates, eating lean protein and vegetables and exercising portion control. A combination of all three means “you’re doing pretty well,” he said.
Restaurants interested in participating in the “Get Fit” program should call the 82nd Street Partnership at (718) 335-9421.