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Here's to You -- Restaurants take menu labeling challenge

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news Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

WALKER -- Cass County Health, Human and Veteran Services has announced that announce Lucette's Pizza and Pub in Hackensack is the second restaurant to begin assessment of menu labeling for the Statewide Health Improvement Program.

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"I am learning a lot more about nutrition and healthy eating habits working with SHIP," said Cindy Paulson, Lucette's owner. "When visiting with our customers, they are as excited as myself to know that Lucette's will soon have healthier entrees on our menu."

When the assessment is complete, Lucette's will formulate an action plan and tentatively begin implementation of the menu labeling in January. Evaluation of the program will begin in the spring of 2011.

SHIP began the community assessment last summer. Results showed menu labeling to be a part of SHIP-supported efforts to reduce obesity in Cass County. Part of the assessment included surveys of 162 Cass County taxpayers; 82 percent were in support of menu labeling in Cass County. Results also showed 24 percent of those surveyed ate out at least three or four times within a two week period.

The first restaurant to participate in menu labeling through Statewide Health Improvement Program was The Village Square Café in Walker. The restaurant began implementing the new menus Oct. 12. The new "Under 550" menu includes a veggie burger, Village Favorite (garden or Caesar salad), Chicken Caesar salad or a Broiled Chicken Breast sandwich on an Ezekiel bun.

"This is a great addition to our menu," said Amy Tabake, server at The Village Square Café. "Our current customers are pleasantly surprised and everyone seems to like it."

People tend to finish what is on their plate when eating out. According to menulabeling.org, in one study, 69 percent of people said they finished their meal in a restaurant most or all of the time. And 30 percent of people said they based the amount of food they eat on how much they are served. Though Americans eat out more than ever before, few restaurants provide nutrition information at the point of ordering. As a result, consumers often get more calories, fat and salt than they recognize. Without clear, easy-to-use nutrition information at the point of ordering, it can be difficult to make informed choices at restaurants. More than 20 states and localities are considering policies that would require fast-food and other chain restaurants to provide calories and other nutrition information on menus and menu boards. Four have already passed policies according to menulabeling.org.

The health reform bill passed by the U.S. Congress contains a provision requiring chain restaurants with 20 or more outlets to disclose the number of calories on their menus or menu boards. Additional nutrition information will be made available upon request. Cass County restaurants participating in SHIP efforts are not required but are choosing to integrate menu labeling into their business policies.

SHIP, an integral part of Minnesota's nation-leading 2008 health reform law, strives to help Minnesotans lead longer, healthier lives by preventing the chronic disease risk factors of tobacco use and exposure, poor nutrition and physical inactivity. Together these three factors have been estimated to cause 35 percent of all annual deaths in the United States, or 800,000 deaths each year.

For details on menu labeling with Cass County SHIP, or if interested in implementing healthier options, call 218-280-2277.

Leslie Staker is the Cass County SHIP director.

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