More than 200 Frederick diners who participated in the Frederick Diabetes Coalition’s Restaurant Challenge voted Firestone’s Culinary Tavern as offering the healthiest and tastiest meals of the seven eateries involved in the effort.
Jan Drass, chairwoman of the coalition, said the idea of the promotion was to try to shift the perception that healthy meals have to be bland.
“It’s very hard to change people’s perceptions that you can eat out and eat healthy and really, really have a great meal, because people don’t think that way,” Drass said. “That’s really hard to change. We hope that through something like the challenge we’ve shown people you can meld all those things together — have a great meal, really enjoy it and have it be healthy.”
Each of the eight restaurants that participated this year created a special menu item that met certain dietary guidelines established by the American Association of Diabetes Educators, the American Diabetes Association and the National Cholesterol Education Program. The recipes were sent to the coalition and analyzed by a registered dietician, Drass said.
The meals were sold in the month of November and advertised in the restaurants. They had to have 550 total calories or less, at least 30 but no more than 60 grams of carbohydrates, 750 milligrams of sodium or less, no more than 18 grams of fat, including no more than 5 grams of saturated fat and zero grams of added transfat.
“Things went great,” Drass said. “We were really, really pleased with the participation in terms of the restaurants but also with the diners. We ended up with over 200 diner-rating cards, so that means a little over 200 people that took the time to rate the meal.”
Firestone’s winning dish included poached cod with roasted root vegetables, French lentils and creme fraiche. The restaurant received a plaque noting their achievement.
The restaurant’s Executive Chef Jack Walker said it wasn’t difficult to come up with a dish that meets the dietary guidelines because many of Firestone’s dishes already meet or exceed them.
“We cook everything from scratch here, so it’s not difficult [to meet the criteria],” he said.
Walker said the dish was added to the restaurant’s menu in November, and kept on each day, even though the restaurant changes its menu daily. The dish was also sometimes featured as the dish of the night.
“It’s overwhelmingly positive feedback,” he said. “I think people are surprised they can have such a nice meal and still meet the guidelines.”
Brewer’s Alley also received a prize for their oatmeal stout bison and butternut chili, which was the best-selling dish of the promotion. Brewer’s staff members received three-day fitness center passes that were donated by Fitness First.
Other participants included Chick-fil-A, Giant Eagle grocery stores at 1275 W. Patrick St. and 1305 W. 7th St., La Paz, Mexicali Cantina and Sushi Densha.
The participation level in the promotion was similar to previous years, with 200 rated meals, said Drass, who was most excited that some of the restaurants seemed open to the idea of expanding their healthy options on a regular basis.
“One of the things we asked them was if they’d keep something healthy on their menu because really that’s the goal of the challenge, to make a long-lasting change in what’s available,” she said. “Just informally, I think there is some interest in doing that.”
Walker didn’t say if the dish would return but said a lot of the choices at Firestone’s would be appropriate for someone trying to keep to a similar diet.
“We’d only run that specific dish during November but a lot of our dishes on there would fall in the criteria for that dish,” he said. “It wasn’t far removed from what we do anyhow for the season.”
Diabetes, a chronic disease that causes an elevated level of sugar in a person’s blood, affects more than 20 million Americans, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Drass said the coalition was considering rolling out a slightly different promotion in 2013 by creating a healthy dining guide for Frederick County, in which restaurants would be able to create a healthy meal that meets certain dietary requirements and receive a notice they can put on their door that would let patrons know of the option.
The guide could also include healthy kid’s meal options, although Drass said the coalition was still in the early stages of researching that idea.
“That is something we’re very interested in promoting,” she said. “... The healthy dining that would really encourage restaurants to include kids as well.”
Overweight and obese people are more likely to contract the disease, which can eventually cause eye problems, nerve damage and circulatory issues, the institute’s website said.
If the current trend continues, one in three Americans will have diabetes by 2050, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those with diabetes have a shorter life expectancy and about twice the risk of dying on any given day as a person of similar age without diabetes.
Drass said 21,000 people in the county have diabetes, and an additional 40,000 have pre-diabetes.
The Frederick County Health Department previously offered a diabetes prevention program but funding for the program was phased out in Oct. 2011, according to its website.
Drass said she was happy to see the variety of options restaurants came up with, and marveled at the customer comments that were crammed in on the rating cards, which didn’t leave space for comments.
“Every time we see comments, they tend to say please keep this on your menu,” she said. “A lot of diners are interested in having these kinds of meals on the menu. We know they were delicious and that people really liked them.”