Hospital cafeterias overhaul their offerings to promote more healthful eating habits among staff, visitors and patients
Driven by hunger to the Christiana Hospital cafeteria, Debi Langshaw walked past the burger patties and french fries, and headed toward the salad bar.
She piled some Caesar salad onto her plate and topped it with carrots and raisins, low-fat cottage cheese and a three-bean salad dressing. She also had ordered a piece of wheat-crusted pizza topped with tomato slices and basil leaves.
"Some of the patients we see, if they lost weight they wouldn't suffer from their asthma so badly," she said. "If they were not obese, they probably would eliminate some of their medical needs with COPD. That extra fat makes it harder to breathe."
But that's changing as hospitals offer up more nutrient-rich food options to employees, patients and visitors. Helping to drive the change is the movement to serve food that is not only nutritious but also safely grown, locally harvested and free of chemicals. Additionally, hospital kitchens are being retooled so more items are grilled instead of fried, for instance.
"A lot of what the hospitals are doing to change food service is in looking at how they can improve employee health," said registered dietitian Lona Sandon, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "We have to change the environment to continue to change people's behaviors. A lot of these changes are coming from a wellness perspective of companies trying to figure out how to keep their employees healthier."
There's no shortage of jokes about the bland taste of hospital food served to admitted patients; the fare is often prepared under the direction of registered dietitians and is, among other things, low in sodium. But the state of hospital cafeteria food, where the diners are mostly staff and visitors, is "the irony of all ironies," Sandon said, considering that doctors preach the consequences of poor nutrition, including heart disease, cancer, obesity and asthma.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2002 found that six of the 17 hospitals considered the best hospitals in the United States had fast-food franchises on campus.
"Typically, some of the fried foods are a little cheaper and have better margins for the hospital, and maybe that's why they've sold better," said Craig Alan Ross, who is contracted to manage the food and nutrition services at Bayhealth Medical Center. "Hospitals weren't trying to push the fried food, though."
"You would think it would be a no-brainer, since part of the mission for hospitals is to keep people healthy, that the food served would be in line with that mission," Sayre said. "It makes sense, but these are institutions that are entrenched in purchasing practices that have been one way for 40 years."
Even more hospitals took notice after a pilot study at four San Francisco-area hospitals concluded that they could save hundreds of thousands of dollars by reducing their meat and poultry purchases. A report on the study was released last April by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.
Changes in cooking
Hayley Rose, a third-year student from Jefferson Medical College, grabbed a salad mixed with cucumbers , beans and brown rice during the lunch hour.
As part of its wellness initiative for employees, Christiana Hospital also routinely gives out free samples of nutritious foods to cafeteria patrons.
Grilled salmon and baked tilapia are commonly served at Bayhealth Medical Center, which oversees Kent General Hospital in Dover and Milford Memorial Hospital. Both Bayhealth and Christiana Care Health System, which oversees Christiana Hospital and Wilmington Hospital, advertise the nutrient contents of each cafeteria dish they serve.
"When I got here, it was pretty much a 'thaw-and-serve kitchen,' and now we're a 'cook-serve kitchen,' " said Frederick Lee, who has been contracted to manage the food and nutrition services at Nanticoke Health Services for the past year and a half.
Local and organic
Christiana Care and Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children are composting their food scraps to be used in gardens right on their campuses. Both of Christiana Care's hospitals and duPont Hospital also offer produce from on-site farmers markets during the warm weather months. And Nanticoke Memorial has started the construction of a nearby garden. The herbs harvested from that garden will be used in foods prepared for residents, patients, visitors and employees.
Christiana Care is one of more than 300 hospitals nationwide that have pledged to offer milk free of the hormone rBGH, and the health system is purchasing meat produced without the use of hormones or antibiotics.
"Antibiotic resistance is something that clinicians, as well as food service, can very much get behind," she said. "What we're seeing is a combination of public health and environmental health concerns."
"I hope we stop serving Philly cheesesteaks and fries," she said. "As a hospital, we're incorporating people to eat healthy, and you cannot incorporate one thing and do another."
The Women's Health & Environmental Network offers a collection of recipes on nutritious and flavorful hospital foods. Two recipes are from Christiana Care. To learn more, visit www.when.org and click on "Download here" under the picture of the carrot.
To read the original article, click here.