Bill would require healthy food choices in state-owned buildings' cafeterias

Nutritional information would also be posted for diners

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Take a whiff of the Iowa Capitol cafeteria, and it's clear plenty of people are ignoring the salad bar and opting for cheeseburgers.

Des Moines Sen. Janet Petersen said she's got nothing against burgers, but wants diners in the state buildings, public universities and community colleges to have healthier choices, as well as have nutritional facts displayed on menus and provide foods that meet American Heart Association guidelines.

A Senate subcommittee approved the bill Wednesday, sending it to a full committee.

Petersen, a Democrat, said the proposal follows the lead of Gov. Terry Branstad's initiative to make Iowa the healthiest state in the nation by 2016.

Stacy Frelund, government relations director at the American Heart Association in Iowa, said it's all part of the effort to help people live healthier lives.

"When you go to the cafeteria, I can taste the butter and oil in the sandwiches and I can taste all of salt that's in the food," Frelund said. "I think it could be prepared better than it is now."

Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht said the governor is committed to his goal and would review the measure to "determine if it will help in that goal."

The proposal would require government cafeterias to post the counts of calories, sodium and saturated fat on menus and meet American Heart Association guidelines that limit calories for snack foods, entrees and meals. A hamburger couldn't exceed 500 calories and a whole meal plate must stay under 750 calories. Vendors would also be required to change their method of preparation, such as using less fattening cooking oils, lean meats and poultry without skin.

"We're trying to curb the number of people we see with cardiovascular disease and strokes," Frelund said. "We want to ease people into it. We don't want to just rip the Band-Aid off."

At the Capitol Cafe in the basement of the Iowa Capitol, head chef Vithoun Saysopha said the proposal seemed workable.

"These guidelines shouldn't affect our menu that much," said Saysopha, who works for Kansas City-based Treat America Food Services.

The Capitol Cafe offers six menu options each day, with at least one healthy option, but Saysopha said the numbers show a decided preference for greasier fare. Last week, the cafeteria sold 256 cheeseburgers and hamburgers, compared to 146 who opted for the healthier turkey burger and 45 who chowed down on a side salad instead of fries or onion rings.

The bill also requires that the Iowa Department of Administration only contract with food vendors whose menus follow the most current dietary guidelines from the American Heart Association and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Vendors purchasing from local food growers would be given preference.

"We would be first in the nation to be doing this kind of work statewide," Frelund said.

Don Avenson, a lobbyist from Oelwein, chose a fried pork tenderloin sandwich for lunch on Wednesday, but wasn't concerned by the healthier push.

"I wouldn't care if they changed the menu," Avenson said. "Cafeteria food can never be as good as the food you eat at home."

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