Wellness: Is Smart Meal Colorado a Lifesaver?

June 28 2012, 11:42 AM

Have you noticed the little red seals next to menu items at some restaurants? Those are Smart Meal Colorado designations. The program is the brainchild of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to help restaurant patrons identify healthy meal choices—those that meet certain nutritional guidelines for calories, fat content, sodium, fruit and veggie servings, and so on.

The nearly 200 eateries that are on board are often fast-casual lunch places like Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill, Qdoba, and Wahoo's Fish Taco. Some more unexpected restaurants (Beau Jo's, Rosa Linda's Mexican Cafe, Denver Pizza Company, Chada Thai, and Buenos Aires Pizzeria) have also signed up.

I’m interested in these little seals because 26 days ago I challenged myself to a month-long, healthy eating plan. It’s not that I’m trying to wean myself from fast food (frankly, I loathe McDonald’s and fear Taco Bell) or that I’m a fried-food junky. I did it because I wasn’t making smart choices with the foods I do enjoy. 

This is my last week. I've cheated. I went on vacation where we enjoyed a campfire on the beach and I couldn't pass up a s'more. At a celebratory dinner at Bones, I ordered the lobster ramen (drenched in sinfully rich beurre-blanc miso broth). I stomped divots at the Denver Polo Classic with a glass of champagne in hand. And I gave myself a hall pass for the Vail wedding we attended.

Conclusion: I fail at special-occasion willpower.

However, my day-to-day eating habits have drastically improved. I actually eat the fruits and veggies in my fridge before they go bad. Turns out that whole-wheat and spinach linguine is just as tasty as the white flour stuff. And I don’t even miss cheese or ice cream. (OK, that’s a lie. I cheated once with an amazing dish of salted-caramel-butterscotch at the adorable Scrumptious in Olde Town Arvada. But just one cup of ice cream. In 30 days. During a heat wave.) And get this: A box of beautiful cupcakes arrived at the office recently. They sat on the table in front of me during a meeting for 30 minutes and I didn’t reach for one. Victory!

The point is, it wasn’t that hard to make smarter choices at home or while grocery shopping for myself. When it does become tricky—and where I consistently found myself disregarding the “yes” and “no” foods—is at special events and restaurants, where you can convince yourself that you don’t have a choice. But at these Smart Meal locations, I can make a healthy, smarter choice. No more excuses.