Although the Center for Disease Control recently reported obesity rates in the country have leveled off, 34 percent of adults and 17 percent of children are still overweight. As a result, health-conscious diners are on the prowl looking for more sensible meals. California residents are also receiving help from state's government, whether they are actively dieting or not. On Jan. 1, it became illegal for restaurants in California to serve items cooked in hydrogenated oils, a common source of trans fats.
While the use of trans fats had already dwindled in fast food establishments and restaurants long before the official ban, restaurateurs have acknowledged the shift in customers' tastes and offer various selections on their menus to appeal to a wider, smarter audience.
To Scooters California Grill and Catering Company co-owner Erin Smith, offering customers healthy fare is nothing out of the ordinary. For the seven years it has been open, Scooters has been offering diners healthful salads made with fresh ingredients and portion sizes for customers to choose from.
"We've always been health-conscious," said Smith.
Smith prides herself on giving diners multiple options so they can get exactly what they are looking for. She allows diners to customize their orders and they can omit salad dressings or put them on the side so they have more control over their portions.
The restaurant also offers tortilla, lettuce and pita wraps for customers counting calories or limiting their carb intake. The pear and pecan wrap features grilled chicken, crumbled blue cheese, toasted pecans and sweet balsamic dressing.
At Shangri La Asian Bistro, owner Paul Cong Van has been offering patrons nourishing dishes since the establishment opened in 2007. He said some of his most popular healthful dishes include the Oriental chicken salad, the mango chicken stir fry and they honey walnut shrimp.
Van also shies away from a traditional Asian ingredient, Monosodium Glutamate, more commonly known as MSG. Van does used MSG to enhance the flavors of his dishes because of the unpleasant side effects associated with it.
MSG can cause headaches and dizziness, as well as chest pains.
Although he isn't about to take brisket or pulled pork off his menu, one local pitmaster is offering fare for his customers who may not be feeling overindulgent.
"I offer a mixed green salad with tri-tip because it's lean," said Richard Berardi, owner of Tin Roof BBQ. "The tri-tip is trimmed so there is no fat on it at all."
He acknowledges most of his menu is not geared towards those counting calories but looks to provide items that appeal to a wide variety of tastes.
While salads with ranch or blue cheese dressing are featured, he also makes his own balsamic vinaigrette and Italian dressings.
He also offers a lighter side dish of Carolina coleslaw, that uses vinegar, ketchup and brown sugar instead of mayonnaise as a binder.
Italian cuisine is centered around simplicity and the use of fresh ingredients. Pietro's owner Jim Murdaca, who has been providing fresh and wholesome food for 25 years, is fully behind this concept. His restaurant offers rustic Italian dishes and is very conscious of what comes out of its kitchen. One way he looks after his customers' well-being is by putting equal amounts of attention in every item and course his guests are served, starting with the table bread.
"We make our own sourdough bread with no preservatives," Jim Murdaca.
He said one of his healthiest and most popular dishes this time of year is the minestrone soup. It is prepared fresh every day and is a perfect comfort food on a cold, rainy day, said Murdaca.
Another light yet satisfying dish is Pietro's penne primavera, which features a variety of vegetables sautéed in olive oil.
Like Scooters and Tin Roof BBQ, Pietro's offers salads tossed in olive oil instead of heavier, cream-based dressings.
In Galt, Wholey Ravioli owner David Fortuna has been looking out for his patrons for the last 15 years.
"We've always made everything from scratch and don't use high fructose corn syrups in our cooking," he said.
By cooking all his dishes to order, Fortuna ensures diners the ability to omit or add items to their dishes. He also serves a vegetarian marinara sauce, shying away from filling it with meat by-products or fats. While extra virgin olive oil is used to sauté the vegetables to start the sauce, it's a very healthful sauce that doesn't have harmful additives.
While the restaurant serves four-course dinners with decadent desserts, Fortuna said customers are able to substitute a strawberry shortcake sundae for a plate of fresh fruit if they desired.
Restaurants know it is in their best interest to offer customers nutritious meals to customers so they will keep coming back for more.
Smith said she knows what diners need to have a balanced diet and healthy bodies.
"They need to eat at Scooters more often," she said with a wink.