W Restaurant Program Keeps You on the Diet … Even on the Go

Bell and Anchor's Pineapple-cashew quinoa with spinach, roasted cauliflower, pickled vegetables and coconut curry. Courtesy photo.

Dieting can be a daunting task, often mutually exclusive from dining out. To improve health and well-being, it is a lifestyle change that has the most profound impact. The good news is for those living on the East End is that one of the most social and notable activities does not have to be avoided for the sake of health. Yes, you can go to a restaurant and still maintain a healthy lifestyle. Understanding the modern consumer doesn’t have the time, or desire, to cook every meal every day, the Wellness Foundation instituted the W Restaurant Program to help Wellness Challenge 360 participants dine without worry. Since its inception five years ago, the program has grown to include more than 15 South Fork locations and counting.

Committed to preventing and reversing chronic disease through plant-based nutrition, the seven-week Wellness Challenge 360 program provides tools and resources to help people transition into a new lifestyle founded on healthy eating. A two-week meal plan with recipes offers a manageable jumping off point for those eager to make a positive wellness change, though those who enjoy going out to restaurants may find it challenging initially. Supplementing the challenge, the W Restaurant Program is a welcomed relief.

“Through the duration of the program people are eating the least inflammatory foods possible for optimal health,” shares Wellness Foundation vice president and executive director of education and programs Jennifer Taylor. “It can be challenging if you’re going out to eat. We were hearing people say that they can do this at home and make the meals, but if they’re going to a restaurant they were like a deer in headlights.”

The restaurant program began with former community outreach director Barbara Kinnier, who recently retired from the Wellness Foundation after 12 years, when she reached out to select East End restaurants and shops to collaborate on menu items and offerings that would fall within the confines of the Wellness Challenge 360. To be challenge-approved, dishes must be plant-based with no animal products and low in sugar, salt and oil. Chefs provide the recipe to the foundation to ensure it meets the standards. Many menu items bear a “W” symbol to let diners know this is the healthy option, while other trained staff members can inform guests of healthy specials and rotating dishes that are challenge-approved.

The Golden Pear was among the very first establishments to join, with Sag Harbor restaurants Sen and Dockside Bar and Grill being early supporters as well. At Dockside, try quinoa and garden pea cakes with arugula orange sauce. Noyac’s Bell and Anchor chef Sam McCleland, who participated in the challenge with his wife a few years ago, wanted to offer a dish that met the criteria. Currently, the vegan plate with pineapple-cashew quinoa with spinach, roasted cauliflower, pickled vegetables and coconut curry is one participants can enjoy. Taylor even tried it for herself with some fellow foundation folks a couple of weeks ago – they all loved it.

Jay Andreassi, owner of Sabrosa Mexican Grill in Water Mill, had also participated in the program and found profound value in the challenge, so much so that it inspired him to fill a void and open a fast food restaurant that was also healthy and fresh. Nearly every menu item is challenge-approved with a focus on plant-based foods, healthy proteins and fresh vegetables in the form of salads, bowls, tacos and burritos. There are challenge-approved soups available as well.

Being able to dine out has offered a strong sense of peace of mind for challenge participants. “When you switch to real food as opposed to fast food, it takes time,” Taylor explains. “You shop and prep, but eventually you want a fast option. During the first week when we tell participants about the restaurant program they look so relieved that there’s an option.”

Lower cholesterol, improved heart health, reduction in chronic inflammation and pain, weight loss, and increased energy are just some of the benefits to be expected when joining the Wellness Foundation. The restaurant program, along with the W Businesses that the foundation partners with, is part of their Wellness Zone on the East End. By creating collaborations and partnerships with business and restaurants, they endeavor to make healthy living more affordable and accessible for people on the East End.

“You can be well and also live in the real world,” Taylor says. “We want to go out socially with friends or just have something quick and not have to cook. About any place in the Hamptons now you can walk in and say you want a plant-based version of something. From pizza to formal dining, people are generally very open.”

Learn more about the Wellness Foundation Restaurant Program at wfeh.org.