Healthier options for children at local restaurants

More restaurants in El Paso County modifying menus for 'Eat Well! El Paso' program

EL PASO, Texas - If you have ever been on a diet, you know how difficult it can be to eat a healthy entrée at some local restaurants and the options for children are less.

A new initiative between the Department of Public Health and some of our favorite local spots are working together to change some of the menus.

The Eat Well! El Paso program is first focused on children's menus to help battle childhood obesity.

Health officials said obesity at a young age can lead to more serious complications like heart disease and diabetes.

"We're looking at the food landscape in El Paso, we want to help improve or decrease childhood obesity. We know do know that fifty percent of people's food budget goes to eating out," said project coordinator Joy Leos.

An even more alarming number, one in three children in the state of Texas is obese.

Leos is working with about 30 restaurants in the county to improve what children eat when they dine out with the family.

The Public Health Department provides a nutritionist or registered dietitian to participating restaurants to identify the nutritional content of menus and modify with standards set by officials.

"We're then helping them improve it and incorporate more fruits and vegetables, healthier beverages and lower the calories, fat and sodium content," said Leos.

Gonzalo's Mexican restaurant located at 401 E. Nevada and one of the restaurants participating in Eat Well! El Paso.

Owner, Patricia Rangel Robinson said the restaurant has been in business since 1960, founded by her parents. She has seen a trend in what her customers are requesting and wants to continue catering to them.

"I've seen a lot more people wanting to eat healthy," she added.

The most drastic change made to the children's menu was cutting out the amount of lard used for some of the entrées.

"We don't use as much lard, we've added fruits and vegetables, instead of Coke we use juices," said Rangel-Robinson.

The Public Health Department estimated it has cut about 80 pounds of salt in restaurant menus.

That number is expected to increase with the success of the program. In the coming year, Joy Leos said Eat Well! El Paso will also focus on menus for adults.

The program comes at no cost for participating restaurants.

"We know that not every restaurant is going to have the enormous budget that a corporation or a huge franchise would have and the resources that go along with that. We as the Department of Public Health are offering that to the local 'mom and pop' restaurants," said Leos.

"I think it's a win-win situation."

The department is looking to recruit a total of 100 restaurants to give El Pasoans a wide variety.

Meanwhile, Patricia Rangel-Robinson is not stopping with the children's menu, she has added healthy options for adults and plans to add more.

Joy Leos is not surprised with the outcome of Eat Well! El Paso because of the statistics that show children in the city and the state are at high risk for potential health problems.

"We know from research that our children, if something doesn't change now, our children are not going to have that lifespan that we have as adults."

For a list of some of the restaurants part of Eat Well! El Paso, click here.

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