The future of hospital food

by Sean Ruck, Contributing Editor | January 08, 2015
From the January 2015 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

Janet Howard is the director of the Healthier Hospitals Initiative at Practice Greenhealth, a non-profit with the mission to improve the health of health care, both by creating a healthier environment for patients and professionals and by creating an overall healthier planet through educational efforts and best practices. HCBN spoke with Howard to get some more information on what the organization’s educating hospitals about in regard to food.

HCBN: How much of a shift has there been with hospitals looking to serve healthier food?
The prerequisite to the Healthier Hospitals Initiatives’ Healthier Food Challenge is signing the Health Care Without Harm Healthy Food Pledge. Through the pledge, hospitals commit to taking steps to green food service operations while providing opportunities to educate patients, staff and visitors about the way food is grown/produced, processed and distributed thereby impacting the health of individuals and communities. Among Practice Greenhealth members — in 2010, 47 percent signed the pledge and by 2013, 69 percent had signed the pledge. While many hospitals we work with are undertaking sustainability initiatives, it’s only more recently that healthy food initiatives are part of an overall sustainability strategy, where hospitals recognize the link between sustainable food and health.

In regard to the food impact for the Healthier Hospitals Initiative, there are three points:

1. Balanced menus – the goal is to reduce meat procurement by 20 percent and increasing the quality of the meat procured.

2. Local, sustainable and/or organic purchasing – the goal is to increase local and/or sustainable food procurement by 20 percent from baseline. There has been an exciting shift in helping hospitals in these complex procurement contracts as a way to not only reduce food miles, but also support their local communities, putting those dollars right back into the communities they serve.

3. Healthier beverages for people and the planet – the goal is to increase the purchase of healthy beverages by 20 percent from baseline. Most hospitals taking this challenge are far surpassing this goal.

Some hospitals we work with are challenged in their efforts to reduce meat because they say their sales aren’t as strong as those for less healthy options. Hospitals with the greatest success have a chef that creates interesting and delicious meals and over time, sales for vegetarian options or healthier choices increase. If you’re reducing meat procurement, it really must be balanced with interesting and delicious options. Health Care Without Harm has compiled menu options in their Balanced Menus Recipe Toolkit.

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