Hospital Food Transformation Continues

When you’re stuck in the hospital, the last thing you want to eat is bland, institutionalized food. That’s why many hospitals are bringing in gourmet chefs, taking advantage of their expertise in menu planning, fresh food sourcing and making healthy meals tasty. Chefs are also a good fit for the healthcare industry because they are used to operating on slim restaurant margins.

But the hospital food transformation hasn’t stopped at hiring top culinary talent. Many hospitals now provide healthier in-room dining options to patients and visitors, such as grilled chicken with salad and flatbread pizza or an Asian chicken salad. They’re limiting desserts and sugary sodas, focusing on whole grains and serving more fruits and vegetables. They’re even growing their own produce and partnering with local farmers. And they’re taking their retail menus to the next level with on-demand, prepared-to-order dishes that give a cafe, bistro or restaurant feel.

This shift has been driven by a combination of factors, including the need to improve patient nutrition and a growing awareness about the link between diet and health. A 2011 study by Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine found that many hospitals’ food served to patients was “high in calories, fat, sodium, sugar and added sugar.”

Hospitals are trying to change this by offering lower-calorie choices in their cafeterias, eliminating deep-fried foods, keeping junky snacks away from the cash register and promoting water instead of soda. They’re also working with local farmers, downplaying desserts and emphasizing fresh fruits and veggies on daily menu boards and in the cafeteria. Some, like UC Davis Medical Center, are even allowing patients to order their own room service for healthier meals such as quinoa or whole grain pasta salad, roasted chicken and vegetables, or flatbread pizza if it fits their dietary profile.

While these efforts have made a difference, some hospitals still face challenges in converting to a more health-conscious culture. For example, it can cost more to source organic ingredients or buy locally grown produce than mass-produced items. And some hospitals may worry that the pricey meals will drive away customers.

However, many restaurants are seeing that a healthy-eating strategy isn’t about taking things off the menu that people actually want. Instead, a more successful approach is to add flavorful enhancements to traditionally unhealthy foods such as fries, burgers and mac and cheese so that they taste healthier without losing their appeal.

And that’s why some restaurants and hospital cafeterias are starting to experiment with everything from adding herbs and spices, using low-fat or no-fat dairy and reducing salt content, to substituting meat for more fish, legumes and nuts. The challenge is to find recipes that fit the needs of individual hospitals, patients and communities while still maintaining their flavor and quality. And to ensure these new options are produced efficiently, on-time and in line with budgets. This is where the experience and flexibility of a professional production management company comes in. The right partner can help you make the most of your meal planning and logistics, while maximizing the potential for revenue growth.