By Tammy Scileppi
Modifying the bounty of ethnic comfort food options offered in the borough’s most diverse area may prove challenging for brave Elmhurst Hospital dieticians, but they’re trying nonetheless.
Healthier eating seems to be on most New Yorkers’ minds these days, but let’s face it, few people can say no to comfort foods. Luckily, everyone living in New York City — especially folks who reside in the World’s Borough — is truly blessed with a cornucopia of yummy, feel good eats from across the globe.
In Jackson Heights, Elmhurst, and surrounding communities — where there are various delicious dining options — some residents and restaurant owners are asking: “Who says comfort food can’t be healthy?”
It seems these locals have been echoing the same sentiments felt by Leslie Ramos, the executive director of the 82nd Street Partnership, as well as those of nutritionists at NYC Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst, who have recently joined forces with several local eateries to offer a new initiative called “Get Fit.”
The program will focus on helping locals make healthy choices when eating out, without giving up the dishes they love and comfort foods they crave from their native countries, all while promoting the area’s small businesses, most of which are owned by immigrants.
It seems like it’s a win-win for everyone involved and hopefully, the concept will spread to other restaurants throughout Queens, which traveling celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain described as “a stewpot of neighborhoods filled with the languages, cultures, traditions and flavors of many lands,” in a “Parts Unknown” television episode shot last year during his gastro tour across Queens.
“Our goal with Get Fit Menu is to show that healthy eating doesn’t mean foregoing favorites or restaurants we love. We hope that by highlighting healthy choices, we can make eating right an easy option,” said Ramos, pointing out that the program is 100 percent free for local restaurants. As an added bonus, it is expected to bring positive exposure to the area’s diverse food scene.
During the coming months, certified nutritionists from NYC Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst’s Department of Food and Nutrition will review recipes and identify items within participating restaurants’ menus that are best suitable for people with dietary restrictions. They will then offer suggestions on how chefs can modify certain foods to make them lower in fat, calories, sugar and sodium. Other aspects of the meals — such as whether food is grilled or fried, and if high-calorie gravies or sauces are used — will also be reviewed.
These items will be added to the official Get Fit Menu, which will be available at the 82nd Street Partnership website and at participating restaurants and health facilities. Participating eateries and the approved items will be identified by a Get Fit Menu sticker, which will be displayed in windows and on menus, according to Ramos.
Participating restaurants include: Sabor Ecuatoriano Bakery in Flushing; Delicias Colombianas in Jackson Heights; Casa Rivera in Elmhurst; M 2 N Cafeteria in Elmhurst; Just Made 4 U in Jackson Heights; La Pequeña Colombia in Jackson Heights; Juquila Mexican Cuisine in Elmhurst; Cositas Ricas in Jackson Heights; Chiflez in Flushing; Seba Seba in Jackson Heights and Corona; Sompong Thai in Jackson Heights; La Boina Roja Steak House in Jackson Heights; VC Restaurant in Richmond Hill; Isa’s Restaurant in Woodside, Pico de Gallo in Jackson Heights; Delhi Heights in Flushing; and Mustang Thakali Kitchen in Jackson Heights.
“We have always strived to provide healthier options on our menu, so we are happy that now there is a program that will help us connect to community members seeking healthy foods. This program will be great for the community,” said Juan Carlos Segarra, owner of participating eatery El Pequeño Ecuadorian Kitchen Restaurant — located at 86-10 Roosevelt Ave. in Jackson Heights, where a recent Get Fit launch celebration was held.
As part of an integrated health care system of hospitals, neighborhood health centers, long-term care, nursing homes and home care, NYC Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst serves an area of nearly one million people in a global community and makes every effort to alleviate cultural barriers to ensure that patients are provided with the quality healthcare they deserve.
“Many of the chronic illnesses we treat, such as heart disease, hypertension and Type 2 diabetes, can be linked to diet, so we see this partnership as an opportunity to raise awareness about the selection of healthy menu choices when dining out,” said Israel Rocha, Jr., NYC Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst CEO and vice president of OneCity Health. “NYC Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst is proud to work with the 82nd Street Partnership and local restaurants to promote healthier eating habits in our community through the Get Fit program.”