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Hartford asks UConn Health to make restaurant meals healthier

Public health experts from UConn Husky Programs are guiding local Hartford restaurants on how to cook healthier food options for the community.

UConn Health has worked with four local restaurants in the North End of Hartford to create healthier menu options that can be offered to members of their dining community. Restaurants include Hot Pots, Syp’s Grille, Mr. Pizza, and Dunn’s River.

“Our goal is to help create a healthier community in Far North Hartford by increasing the availability of healthy and affordable food and beverages,” said Elby Gonzalez-Schwapp, senior project manager at the Department of Health and Human Services at the City of Hartford.

The effort led by UConn Husky Programs is a collaboration with the Connecticut Department of Public Health and the Hartford Healthy Family Initiative (HHFI) of the City of Hartford Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Family, Children, Youth and Recreation.

Taste tour stop at Dunn’s River in Hartford on June 15.

Funded by CDC’s State Program on Physical Activity and Nutrition (SPAN), the Connecticut Department of Public Health is working to implement community and workplace food service guidelines to increase the availability of healthy foods.

For this collaboration, the UConn Health Husky Programs team conducted analyzes of restaurant menus and recipes. Experts then worked closely with each restaurant owner to modify current recipes for select menu items to reduce sodium and saturated fat content and increase the use of whole grains, fruits and vegetables whenever possible.

“As a result of this community collaboration, restaurants will be able to provide healthier menu options to the Hartford community,” said Catalina Quesada, MPH, RDN, community education specialist at the Center for Population Health and the UConn Husky Programs. at UConn Health. “To reduce or decrease the prevalence of chronic diseases in the community, we need to make some changes in the way we eat. We also have to make it accessible and affordable for people.”

A walk-through of the recommended menu changes was held on June 15 at all four restaurants in the North End of Hartford with community ambassadors testing the modified menu items.

And the results of the taste test are ready.

“It was very good. The taste, the look, the aroma, it was fantastic,” shared Shanika Williams, one of several community ambassadors helping Hartford restaurants improve their menus and find healthy alternatives.

“I like that it’s well seasoned, not too salty and it’s good for bringing healthy food options to the community,” shared Kevin Mercado, another community ambassador.

Additionally, once the restaurant menu changes are approved, plans are underway to implement a food policy at the Parker Memorial Community Center that collaborates with the project to support healthier dining options at the community center.

The tasting tour also stopped at the Hartford Hot Pots restaurant.

“It’s really important to get these restaurants to just do the smallest parts of changing sodium levels, changing the type of butter they cook their food with,” shared Jotty Estrella, a member of the Hartford Department of Health and Human Services.

“It’s hard to change eating habits, but I think having other options for other people is just a step in the right direction,” shared Erroljh Barrett, assistant community recreation counselor for the city of Hartford.

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