With the new health craze circling the globe, organizers and sponsors of the Taste of Buffalo decided to introduce a new Healthy Options component to the annual festival.

The festival showcases a few items from some of the Buffalo-Niagara region’s best restaurants. About 55 restaurants participate in the annual event, including Niagara County restaurants the Red Coach Inn and The Basket Factory. Other Niagara County businesses at the Taste include Warm Lake Estate and Niagara Landing wineries.

Carrie Meyer, executive director of the Independent Health Foundation, said that by introducing the Healthy Options plan to the festival, they can start this initiative and lead the way to a healthier lifestyle for the rest of the country.

“We were able to work closely with local restaurants and create a mandate that all 56 restaurants had to offer a healthy option (in order to participate),” Meyer said. “What better way than to launch it at a big festival?”

Healthy Options was founded in 2004 by the Independent Health Foundation to prepare healthy menu options at local restaurants for customers. All items contain no more than 30 percent of calories from fat, less than 10 percent from saturated fat and low cholesterol and sodium. The new Healthy Options items available at the Taste of Buffalo will also be promoted throughout the year at all the local participating restaurants.

The main focus of Healthy Options is for festival-goers to be able to try delicious options and still be healthy, Meyer said.

“Eating healthy doesn’t mean just eating salad,” she said. “(Now), you can walk away not feeling guilty.”

Items such as country mashed potatoes, pasta fagioli, corn-on-the-cob, and even fudge cake with raspberry coulis will be offered as healthy items at this year’s Taste of Buffalo.

Julie Reigle, a co-owner of The Basket Factory in Middleport, supports the new plan. The Basket Factory, 2 Watson Ave., is one of several Niagara-area restaurants participating in the festival.

“(Healthy Options) is great,” Reigle said. “Everyone is self-conscious now about gaining weight and eating right.”

The Basket Factory will be offering items such as a seafood bisque and stuffed banana peppers with crab and cream cheese, along with a grilled citrus vegetable sanoma salad as its healthy option menu item. The Red Coach Inn will offer its sautéed Asian tiger shrimp with smoked bacon salsa and its own healthy options item: a pinwheel made with two, zero-trans-fat cookies and fat-free Cool Whip.

Marisa Muscoreil is an intern with the Greater Niagara Newspapers features department.

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