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Weymouth program points to a healthier way

In Weymouth, healthy eating isn’t just an option, it’s endorsed by the town.

Through the Healthy Wey program — a joint initiative of the town of Weymouth and Mass in Motion, a state program that promotes healthy lifestyles — restaurants have been adding healthier options to their menus.

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To qualify for the Healthy Wey dining program, restaurants must agree to offer at least two side dish choices of fruit and/or vegetables; be willing to substitute, at no additional cost, salad or fruit in place of french fries or chips; clearly mark the healthier food options on their menu; offer low-fat or skim milk; offer smaller portion sizes for a reduced price; and include at least one nonfried chicken or fish entrée and at least one vegetarian entrée.

According to Healthy Wey’s coordinator, Val Sullivan, the program began with a health study in 2002, which led to a friendly health and fitness competition between the Police and Fire Departments, and eventually the name “Healthy Wey.” The guidelines were developed with the help of Lisa Raymond, South Shore Hospital’s lead nutritionist, and Andrea Mariani, the hospital’s registered dietician.

Nowadays, restaurants are calling to ask how they can get on board, but in the beginning, Sullivan said, she had to make personal visits to sell the idea.

“Weymouth was new at this; we wanted to start slowly,’’ said Sullivan. “We also looked to other Mass in Motion communities [Everett and New Bedford] to see how they were running their healthy dining programs.”

The first member in Weymouth was Olympic Pizza (15 Union St.), which agreed to try out a menu in May 2011.

Frannie Xerokostas, owner of Olympic Pizza, said that when she attended a Healthy Wey meeting and introduced herself, a woman next to her asked: “A pizza shop? What are you doing here?”

“I felt insulted,’’ said Xerokostas. “We take great pride in our pizza shop and the food we serve. I wanted to prove her wrong. I thought, ‘I’ll show her.’ That’s when I decided to volunteer.”

In addition to traditional pizzas, subs, and salads, customers who want a lighter or low-calorie option can try the Mediterranean salad ($5), topped with feta cheese, olives and mint, drizzled with an olive oil and red wine vinegar dressing, or a lighter version of the original Greek salad.

There also a chicken gyro with lettuce, tomato, onion, and homemade tzatziki ($4). For pasta lovers, they offer a chicken, broccoli, and garlic dish ($7) served over whole-wheat pasta. And customers who still want a pizza can order one with a whole-wheat crust.

To qualify as a Healthy Wey healthy meal, each meal must contain no more than 600 calories, 35 percent of calories from fat, 600 milligrams of sodium, and 150 milligrams of cholesterol. That can be a challenge, considering that one slice of a typical 12-inch pizza has 200 to 300 calories.

Since the pilot program began, three more restaurants have become official partners — Dawn Til Dusk, Gusto Pizza, and Kelly’s Landing. And of course, South Shore Hospital is a Healthy Wey dining partner as well.

Sullivan said she continues to look for more partners, and the Mad Hatter Café on Route 18 could become the next one. She said she hopes to have 10 restaurants on board by June.

Dawn Til Dusk (90 Pond St.) already offered a variety of healthy food options, including fruit smoothies, salads, and sandwiches, but owner Dawn Gerbrands said she saw an opportunity to do more.

“If customers dine here several times a week, they appreciate having the choice to eat less heavy on one or more of those days,” she said.

The menu will be adding the Healthy Wey wrap, complete with homemade hummus, grilled chicken, roasted red peppers, romaine lettuce, tomato and onion rolled up in a whole-wheat wrap, and the Healthy Wey salad sampler, which includes a scoop of fruit salad, citrus slaw, and either tuna or chicken salad. Both are prepared with an olive oil-based dressing instead of mayonnaise, served over a bed of romaine and a whole-wheat wrap.

Gusto Pizza (1305 Pleasant St.), in addition to the traditional pizza and wraps, offers gluten-free choices as well as a whole-wheat crust on the pizzas.

Kelly’s Landing (159 Bridge St.) now offers two lighter seafood dishes in addition to traditional fare, including fish and chips, deluxe burgers, and sandwich items. The lighter options, a 6-ounce piece of broiled scrod for $9 and a broiled scallop-and-shrimp casserole for $10, are both served with a side of two vegetables.

For the carb-conscious, Kelly’s has also added a grilled chicken Caesar salad ($8), sans croutons, served with a side of fruit. For customers with a bigger appetite, there’s the Tuscany Toss ($8), a pasta dish that combines 1 cup of pasta, red peppers, broccoli, asparagus, and artichokes, served with a choice of marinara sauce or scampi style, and a side of fruit.

“I’ve been teased about serving in the role of ‘food police,’ ” Sullivan said, but added that, overall, the reaction has been favorable.

And she pointed out that the town is simply suggesting healthier alternatives, not requiring them.

Xerokostas also said the program is well-received. Though she does not track orders, she estimates that Olympic Pizza serves about 15 healthy lunches a day.

“We have a group of guys, salesmen I think, and they all order the Healthy Wey salads at lunch,’’ she said. “It’s at the point where they don’t even have to order. We just say, ‘Healthy Wey salad?’ and they say, ‘Yes.’ ”

Stacey Shipman (staceyshipman.com) is a writer, speaker, and consultant specializing in wellness and small business communication.
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