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Abby Moran, a waitress at McMillan's Family Restaurant on South First Street in Willmar, displays some items from the restaurant's new menu. With the help of registered dietitian Tiffany Krogstad, McMillan's owners Ron and Mary Guetter have revamped their food menu for healthier food options. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

McMillan's unveils new Heart Healthy options

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WILLMAR -- Menu items once high in calories and fat at McMillan's Family Restaurant in Willmar have undergone a nutritional overhaul through the new Heart Healthy Menu that debuted last week.

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The restaurant's buffalo chicken wrap once contained upwards of 875 calories and 41 grams of fat -- served without fries and a coke.

With the help of registered dietitian Tiffany Krogstad, owners Ron and Mary Guetter were able to whittle the 41 grams of fat down to just 15. The wrap now contains 643 calories -- and that includes a side of steamed vegetables.

The wrap is one of nine menu items featured on the new menu. Although the meal still contains more than 600 calories, the remaining eight items average about 400 calories an entrée -- far fewer than the 1,000 calories Krogstad said are consumed on average when dining out.

Each menu item, from the oven roasted turkey dinner to the pancakes and eggs, is a leaner, trimmer version of its predecessor.

The Guetters tucked the new Heart Healthy Menu insert inside the restaurant's existing menu Tuesday.

The couple had wanted to create a healthy menu to meet costumers' needs since purchasing the restaurant several years ago, but Mary said both she and Ron lacked the nutritional expertise to create healthier versions of the restaurants' more popular entrees.

"We have many customers on so many special diets," Mary said. "We wanted to reach out to as many customers as possible so that everyone can find something on our menu to order."

Last spring, the Guetters sought Krogstad to help modify existing menu items to create a healthy menu.

Unbeknownst to the Guetters, Krogstad was already in the process of analyzing menus under a contract with Kandiyohi County Public Health. Through the Statewide Health Improvement Program grant, a menu analysis project was in its formative stages at local eating establishments in the area.

Bobbi Jo Berg, a public health educator with Kandiyohi County Public Health, said one of the main goals of the SHIP grant is to lower the percentage of Minnesotans who are overweight or obese. Providing a menu analysis for independently owned eating establishments is just one initiative funded by the grant to raise nutritional awareness.

Krogstad and Berg began the first phase of the grant last spring. Invitations were sent to area coffee shops in hopes of generating interest in the program. Interested eating establishments could elect to make nutritional information available to customers or create new, healthier alternatives. Berg said coffee shops were targeted to keep the pilot group small.

McMillan's was not one of the initial coffee shops invited to participate, but because their timing aligned with Krogstad's contract with the county, they were able to create a menu using funds from the grant.

Using sophisticated nutritional analysis software provided by the SHIP grant, Krogstad began the menu analysis by first entering each ingredient found in each individual McMillan's menu item into the software system. Once Krogstad calculated the total calories and fat content, she was able to make modifications to lower the fat and calorie content. Nine items were recreated from McMillan's existing menu, each significantly lower in total calories and fat content.

Mary Guetter knew when she began the project she wanted to modify items using ingredients already on hand in the kitchen: egg substitute, sugar-free syrup, pico de gallo, fat-free dressings and whole wheat English muffins and whole wheat tortillas.

"We already had the ingredients on hand to make our meals healthier," Mary said.

Oftentimes, cutting out calories meant cutting out hallmark high-calorie ingredients including butter and mayo. Toast and English muffins are served dry and steamed vegetables are prepared without butter on the new menu.

The new items require chefs to be more mindful of how food is prepared. Guetter said chicken is now broiled, and griddles are scraped to remove oil before preparing the new garden omelets or pancakes.

"We want to make sure we keep calories down and stick to what we advertise," Mary said.

Since the menu has been made available to customers, Mary says feedback has been mostly positive. One customer had recently suffered two heart attacks and told a member of McMillan's serving staff he appreciated the fact that the nutritional information -- including sodium -- is published in the menu.

Other local eating establishments invited to participate are in different phases of the menu analysis program, according to Berg. Not all participants will create a new menu as McMillan's did; others may elect to simply disclose nutritional information to customers or make it available upon request.

Once the pilot round is completed, Berg plans to invite other restaurants to participate.

Menu analysis is just one strategy outlined under the SHIP grant aimed to lower obesity rates across the state. Other programs are under the SHIP grant are being implemented at schools, daycares and places of employment -- all with the hopes of creating and supporting healthy behaviors which make it easier for people to make healthy choices every in their daily lives.

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