Although we’ve come a long way when it comes to healthy dining, there’s still a ways to go when it comes to a healthy mindset.
“I think there’s a misconception when it comes to healthy food — that healthy food can’t taste good,” said Heather Laganelli, owner of Locale Farm to Table in downtown Bakersfield. “And it excites me to be able to offer food that is healthy and tastes good.”
Laganelli said she still hears from people in the community who think the restaurant focuses solely on traditional healthy food, even though she’s been offering her own take on healthy since she took over the business in 2015.
“(When people say,) ‘I haven’t been to Locale because I don’t really do health food,’ I can’t make this up, it hurts my soul every time.
“My response is, ‘There are ways to eat healthy that may not look like ways you’ve eaten healthy in the past.'”
Locale is just one of a number of local restaurants and food trucks that have been “Certified Healthy” by the Kern County Public Health Services Department’s program that started in 2018. There are 10 criteria each business must meet to be certified including having at least six menu items under 500 calories, offering fruits or vegetables as a side item, and serving meals that are lower in sodium or saturated fat or higher in fiber.
Locale’s seven salads, sweet potato and Brussels sprouts bowl and cowboy tacos‚ made with pulled pork or jackfruit, that can be served in lettuce cups instead of tortillas, are the most popular menu items. Laganelli said each can be adjusted further based on a customer’s needs or dietary restrictions.
The restaurateur’s standard of healthy is real food, locally sourced and unprocessed (or minimally so). As an example, she points out the use of sunflower oil rather than vegetable oil for Locale’s fried options since the sunflower oil will not release some of the compounds found in the more-common oil.
Above all, she said diners should take the time before heading out to eat to research what is best for their bodies based on their needs or goals. From there, they can make smarter choices at the restaurant.
She said, “They don’t have to sacrifice the flavor or quality of the food that they’re ingesting.”
That’s a sentiment shared by longtime restaurateur Ralph Fruguglietti, who offers a fitness menu as part of the offerings at Frugatti’s in southwest Bakersfield.
The menu came about when Fruguglietti was training for the U.S. Track and Field Masters Competition about 10 years ago.
“I wanted to watch what I ate since I was competing throwing the discus. … These were the meals I would make.”
What started as a personal preference grew as customers learned about the lighter entree options and wanted to order them.
Fruguglietti said the fitness menu has only grown in popularity now with 20 different items, including a salad and dessert (a smaller portion of the house-made lemon ricotta cheesecake). That’s a reflection of a growing focus on healthier living, he said, noting more people staying active.
“If you see a community with an increase in gyms, people jogging, running, riding then we need to be offering some things that would be good for people who want to eat healthy.”
The benefit of highlighting healthier options — which include swapping out pasta for vegetables cooked in the wood-fired oven and a focus on proteins — is that it takes some of the guesswork out of ordering if you want to watch your intake of calories, carbs or fat. (Each item also includes a nutritional breakdown on the menu.)
He said the fitness baked chicken breast, a 10-ounce seasoned portion cooked in the wood-fired oven and served with roasted rosemary potatoes and asparagus, is a popular option.
“You’re not eating diet food, you’re eating healthy food,” he said.
Fruguglietti is aware that diners aren’t always going to stick to a fitness menu or may not have that option at another restaurant, so he suggests going in with a “battle plan” for healthier choices.
“First of all, don’t go to the restaurant really hungry. Like they say don’t go to the grocery store really hungry.”
He recommends having something small in the afternoon so you’re not starving when you head to dinner.
“If you go in there starving, I guarantee you will be making bad choices.”
Then pick a protein and consider side dishes and sauce options. Many restaurants can adjust items within reason, so it doesn’t hurt to ask.
Both Laganelli and Fruguglietti agreed that a little planning can go a long way to making healthier choices when dining out. But it’s still OK to indulge a little.
“Lasagna we can’t change,” Fruguglietti said, laughing. “You can have a cheat day, enjoy lasagna like Garfield.”
Stefani Dias can be reached at 661-395-7488. Follow her on Twitter: @realstefanidias.