The public health experts of 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 its dining community members. The restaurants include Hot Pots, Syp’s Grille, Mr. Pizza, and Dunn’s River.
“Our goal is to help create a healthier community in the North End of Hartford by increasing the availability of healthy and affordable foods and beverages,” said Elby Gonzalez-Schwapp, senior project manager in the City of Hartford’s Department of Health and Human Services.
The effort led by UConn Husky Programs is a collaboration with the Connecticut Department of Public Health and City of Hartford’s Department of Health and Human Services Hartford Healthy Family Initiative (HHFI), and Department of Family, Children, Youth, and Recreation.
Funded by the CDC’s State Physical Activity and Nutrition Program (SPAN), the Connecticut Department of Public Health is working to implement food service guidelines in community and work site to increase availability of healthy food.
For this collaboration, analyses of the restaurant menus and recipes were conducted by UConn Health’s Husky Programs team. The experts then worked closely with each restaurant owner to modify current recipes of select menu items to reduce both 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,” stresses Catalina Quesada, MPH, RDN, community education specialist in the Center for Population Health and the UConn Husky Programs at UConn Health. “In order to reduce or decrease the prevalence of chronic diseases in the community, we need to make some changes in the way that we eat. We also have to make it accessible and affordable for people.”
On June 15 a taste test tour of the recommended menu changes was held with the North End of Hartford’s four restaurants with community ambassadors sampling the modified menu items.
And the taste test results are in.
“It was so good. The flavor, the appearances, 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 to bring healthy food options to the community,” shared Kevin Mercado, another community ambassador.
In addition, once the restaurant menu modifications are approved, plans to implement a food policy at the project’s collaborating Parker Memorial Community Center are underway to support healthier meal options at the community center.
“It’s really important to get these restaurants to just do the smaller 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 just having other options for other people, I think, is just a step in the right direction,” shared Erroljh Barrett, assistant community recreation counselor for the City of Hartford.