When Ochsner Fitness Center nutritionist Molly Kimball launched the Eat Fit program in 2013, a cookbook was not part of the plan. The goal was to encourage restaurants to add or highlight healthy menu items.
“We didn’t have other models in other regions,” Kimball says. “We were kind of like, let’s figure it out as we go.”
In six years, the Ochsner Eat Fit program has expanded to Baton Rouge, Acadiana, Lafayette and Shreveport, with more than 300 participating restaurants ranging from Commander’s Palace to Ye Olde College Inn. It has been embraced by festival concessions at Voodoo Music + Art Project and French Quarter Festival. At events at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, patrons can find barbecue shrimp and cauliflower grits and other Eat Fit-approved plates.
Eat Fit has nutritional criteria of less than 600 calories for a dinner entree and thresholds for sodium, fats, added sugar and more. There also are breakdowns for breakfast, snacks, juices, smoothies and kids’ meals.
Feedback from restaurants has been largely positive, Kimball says. Restaurants can go through a trial and error period to figure out what guests want, and her team works with chefs to create dishes that are creative, tasty and healthy.
“Eat Fit food doesn’t have to be simple or boring,” Kimball says. “It can still have sauces and other things on it to add complexity.”
Many chefs keep space on their changing menus for Eat Fit dishes, and the program is finding wider acceptance.
“Restaurants we talked with a couple of years ago who weren’t sure it was a fit for them are more open to it now,” Kimball says. “You never know what happens inside of a restaurant. They may have had a few key customers asking for something lighter or see other restaurants similar to them doing Eat Fit. It has gotten easier in every region we enter.”
There had been discussion of creating an Eat Fit cookbook for years, but the project materialized when Emily Eickhoff made the cookbook her capstone project while pursuing a master’s degree in nutrition. The book project was picked up by River Road Press, and the team reached out to Eat Fit restaurant partners for recipes. Eickhoff took most of the photographs in the book.
Ochsner Eat Fit will expand to Monroe next and staff already are working in southern Mississippi. While the program could be licensed to operate in other regions, Kimball says many interested parties don’t have the support of a healthcare organization or insurance provider to make the program work.
“The Eat Fit Cookbook” is available online.