Eat Well! El Paso program helps to provide healthier meals

May 22, 2017

When it comes to the Paso del Norte Health Foundation’s Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) initiative, more is better.

The more multi-disciplined the approach, the greater the odds a cross-section of the region will benefit.

The more there is a mixture of programs that teach people the skills they need to live a healthier life and availability of nutritious food to make healthy lifestyle choices, the better the chances that HEAL will take root and create lifelong habits. This is where the City of El Paso’s Eat Well! El Paso campaign comes into play. Eat Well! El Paso adds to the broad nature of HEAL efforts by bringing on board local restaurants and food trucks, and helping drive the conversation around nutritional value. Eat Well! El Paso launched in 2012 with funding from the Health Foundation. Joy Leos of the City’s Department of Public Health says there are 33 restaurants currently participating and that it’s a constant process of reaching out to restaurants, and recently to the 400 licensed food trucks and mobile food vendors, to get more eateries on board with the program, to offer healthy menu items for children. To measure the effectiveness of the Eat Well! campaign, Leos’ team counts calories. She says data shows that since the campaign launched, the city has helped cut a total of 27,500 excess calories from restaurant meals, and that more than 60,000 mg of sodium has been cut out of children’s menus across the city. “That’s just our baseline number, which is equivalent of one child eating one meal, one day at each of the restaurants involved in our program,” Leos said. “If you multiply that by multiple children eating multiple meals over multiple days, the numbers are just astounding.”

Now you get the picture: The potential for a healthier eating community is great given the work of the City’s Department of Public Health in partnership with the Paso del Norte Health Foundation.

A list of restaurants that participate in the Eat Well! El Paso campaign can be found at (click on “Special Projects”).

“I think the benefits of Eat Well! El Paso are endless,” Leos said. “We have the privilege of working in the realm of food, and there are different layers to food.

“There’s so much that needs to be done as far as community engagement, education, food policy, access to food, school nutrition, and the list goes on and on. Our staff is energized and excited to build new partnerships.”

Eat Well! El Paso also provides nutritional training for food preparers as part of its grant from PdNHF. The training is focused in three areas: Health impact of sugar-sweetened beverages; the importance of portion control; and the benefits of incorporating more fruits and vegetables into a daily diet.

So far, 66 restaurant employees have finished the training and the City’s next step is to bring on board the City food inspection department to reach a broader audience.

“We feel that it’s important for anyone working with food to have this basic knowledge that will allow them to think about making healthy changes, and to take these skills back to their homes to use in their own lives with their families,” Leos said.

The President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition included Eat Well! El Paso among its community leadership awards list. More validation that the Paso del Norte Health Foundation’s Healthy Eating Active Living initiative and the City’s Eat Well! campaign are having impact.

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