If you're eating in the Main Dining Room or the East Mall Café at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, you might notice one, two or three apple icons on the nutritional labels for some of the entrees and side dishes being offered. The Dartmouth-Hitchcock Food and Nutrition Services team hopes to help employees and visitors who are time-stressed make choosing healthier food an "easy choice."

"Easy Choices" is a nutrition cueing strategy to help individuals who want to limit calories, unhealthy fats and sodium, while increasing intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans. "Many of us want to eat a more balanced diet, but it's hard to get good information about food choices – especially when eating out," says Greg Norman, Director of Community Health Improvement and Benefits.

That's where the apple icons help in making a healthy choice. When you see the "apples," you know that this food option meets standards based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. "The more apples, the healthier dietary criteria it meets," says LWWW Dietitian and Health Coach, Heather Wolfe, MPH, RD, LD.

The diagram below shows the criteria for Easy Choices' meals and side dishes:

Easy Choices provides an opportunity to educate customers, as well as the Food and Nutrition staff, explains Deb Keane, RD, LD, Director, Food and Nutrition Services. "As we continue to develop new recipes, the cooks are thinking, 'How can I make this a healthier item? How can I make it a two or three apple rating?'" she says and adds, "We're anxious to get feedback and continue to make positive changes."

"I like Easy Choices because it moves away from just counting calories or just focusing on saturated fats, and has a broader array of criteria that support a more balanced overall diet," says Norman.

In the fall of 2012, CHaD-based Upper Valley Healthy Eating Active Living Partnership (UV HEAL) partners prioritized "healthier eating out" as a focus area. In collaboration with Live Well/Work Well and the DHMC Food Services team, Easy Choices was developed based on criteria piloted at Cheshire Medical Center/ Dartmouth-Hitchcock Keene over the past two years.

Kristen Coats, the UV HEAL Partnership Coordinator, notes that DHMC was chosen as a pilot site for Easy Choices in the Upper Valley, but intends to expand that approach to a broader community. "We anticipate Easy Choices' apples appearing in numerous restaurants, workplaces, and other venues over the next two years," says Coats.

Learn More about Easy Choices

On March 21 and 22, Wolfe along with Coats, Ellen Lewis from Food and Nutrition Services, and Brigit Humpert were outside the Main Dining Room handing out apples and explaining how Easy Choices can make getting food on the go more nutritious.

An Easy Choices FAQ is also available on dartmouth-hitchcock.org.

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