Red means stop. Green means go. Yellow—at least in Houston—means go even faster, quick, before it turns red. These are universal truths, at least when it comes to US traffic laws and, it turns out, a new menu design at Trevisio. The fetching Italian restaurant perched atop the McGovern Fountains on the Texas Medical Center campus recently instituted a menu change that makes it easier than ever to discern the low-calorie items from those that should perhaps be saved for a splurge day. Dishes that have fewer than 350 calories are listed in green on the menu. Dishes between 350 and 450 calories are listed in yellow, while those in red are over 450—and all of them, as befitting Trevisio's reputation, are delicious.
6550 Bertner St.
It's a system similar to those created to help those with Prader Willi Syndrome make smarter, simpler dining choices, as well as one used by Massachusetts General Hospital in a research project in 2012. There, Mass General discovered that diners in their hospital cafeteria purchased healthier food in greater quantities and unhealthy food in much lower quantities when the red-yellow-green color-coding system was applied to packaged foods. After all, it's not that diners don't want to make healthier choices when eating out. Instead, we rarely have the tools necessary to immediately discern the nutrition content of a meal, and studies have long shown that Americans are particularly bad at underestimating the caloric content of foods as well as their own daily calorie intake.
This is a fact that Trevisio's executive chef Jon Buchanan is well-aware of. "It can be difficult to know how many calories are in a dish when you are not preparing it yourself, so we are taking out the guesswork for our guests." It's a difficult task throughout the Med Center, in fact, which is primarily populated by high-calorie fast-food chains such as, say, the McDonald's that greets visitors, patients and employees alike upon entering the Texas Children's Hospital's Abercrombie building.
The Med Center is aware of this irony, for its part, hence the new red-yellow-green menu at Trevisio, which is being introduced in partnership with the TMC's Health Policy Institute. "Our country is facing an obesity epidemic and alleviating this issue is one of the top priorities of the Health Policy Institute," says Dr. Tim Garson, director of the newly created Health Policy Institute. "The people at Trevisio have been ideal to work with. This has been a real team effort."
On the new menu, look for "green" dishes such as octopus carpaccio with caper berries and heirloom tomatoes and a frutta di mare cocktail with chilled shrimp, jumbo lump crab meat and avocado in a spicy cocktail sauce, dishes that skimp on calories but certainly not flavor. "Yellow" dishes such as red snapper with lentils and pan-seared redfish with garbanzo beans and vegetables pack a punch for their 350 to 450 calorie range. And there are even "green" desserts, from a classic tiramisu to a decadent Nutella cheesecake, because eating healthy doesn't have to mean depriving yourself of a little something sweet at the end of a meal.