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Mahalia Freed, ND Headshot

Healthy Eating in High-End Restaurants: "Haute Cuisine" Needs an Overhaul

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In my role as a naturopathic doctor, I routinely encourage people to eat more leafy green vegetables. I won't go into the myriad of reasons why in this column. You've probably heard it before. Basically, regardless of your health concern, it will help. PMS, weight loss, cancer prevention, diabetes, heart disease, fertility... Yes. Eat greens.

I truly believe that we should enjoy our food, as well as feeling nourished by it. In order to make change sustainable regarding diet and nutrition, I encourage clients/patients to work WITH their bodies, rather than pitting their willpower against the oh-so alluring take out menu! I always offer suggestions of how to make veggies taste good. I offer recipes, refer to holistic nutritionists, and recommend cookbooks.

And -- perhaps unrealistically -- I expect fancy restaurants to serve as inspirations with respect to how to prepare healthy, taste bud-scintillating vegetable dishes.

The trouble is, I find that too many high-end restaurants are not leading the charge to affect change in the average diner's experience of 'seasonal vegetables.' We need to raise the standards for vegetable preparation in high-end restaurants -- and this begins with requiring more from the fancy hot-spots that do not hesitate to charge us more. Because right now, as much as I love celebrating something special with food prepared by someone else and as delightful as it is to hold hands across the table and gaze at my sweetheart as we sip our beverages, I find that I am just not going to high-end restaurants anymore. Too often, the inflated price point leaves me flat when measured against the profoundly uninspiring vegetable accompaniment that has been prepared with all the verve and creativity of a dial tone. I'm sorry, but steamed carrots and a slice of wobbly bell pepper just doesn't feel good in my body.

And I know that it isn't just me.

So why do vegetables get the shaft? Why do many higher end restaurants get away with serving a bland and entirely un-seasonal mixture of steamed fake baby carrots, two florets of underdone broccoli, and maybe a spear of asparagus with every main? Don't tell me that they didn't learn how to cook vegetables in fancy chef's school. I know it isn't emphasized, but I also know it is taught. Where is the creativity? Where is the celebration of vegetables? In order for people to expand their palate and learn which greens they like prepared which way, they need an opportunity to try them. What better place to start than their favorite restaurant?

It is time to hold restaurants to a higher nutritional standard.

I recently spoke to the owner of a high-end restaurant about this issue. He said that the big problem with vegetable sides is that people don't eat them. When plates are cleared into the garbage after a meal, more often than not, the vegetables are decorating the dumpster. He said that this is why kitchens don't put a lot of energy into making vegetables interesting. Hmmm. What? This from the owner of an establishment making an effort to serve beautifully prepared, local food! Ridiculous!

Here are my simple suggestions for a smooth transition to tasty vegetable sides in high-end restaurants:

1) Make the sides taste good! Put some effort into the flavors. Rather than steaming carrots and topping with butter, what about sautéing rapini or bok choy with garlic? Or, do kale with ginger, onions and garlic? Is there an Asian-inspired sauce on the main? Add tamari and toasted sesame oil to the greens.

2) Be creative. Yes to seasonal, local. Don't add sugar. Use good quality, mineralized sea salt. Want to go wild? Try a lavender-infused or smoked sea salt. Oooh! Look beyond dairy for creaminess and depth. How about tahini as a calcium-rich sauce base for greens? Feeling adventurous? Try serving dandelion greens and shiitakes!

3) Offer options. To avoid the issue of throwing out unwanted vegetables, offer three options for the evening. For example, an endive and fresh herb side salad garnished with baked sweet potato "chips"; steamed broccoli with a lemon-tahini-garlic sauce; or sautéed kale with onions, garlic and ginger. Yum!

Rather than getting into chicken-and-egg debates about how veggies ended up in the dumpster, why not just sex up the veggies? Our bodies will thank us, and maybe local restaurants will benefit from a bump in sales due to the return of the veggie connoisseurs!

Do you have suggestions to add? Reach Dr Mahalia Freed on twitter (@mahaliafreednd) or on Facebook. Let's get this revolution underway!

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