Healthcare News & Insights

More hospitals provide healthier food options for all

Hospitals are tasked with improving patients’ health, but the food they serve to both patients and visitors may occasionally fall short of that goal.

Across the country, several hospitals have implemented policies to set a different standard for their food services departments.

For example, as part of the Healthy Hospital Food Initiative program, New York City’s public hospitals have worked to reduce calories in patient meals, providing them with offerings that are low in fat and sodium.

And now the city’s gone even further:  As a result of an initiative from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, all hospital cafeterias and vending machines will soon be banned from selling unhealthy foods to visitors and employees. Fatty, sugary snacks and drinks will no longer be available for purchase.

Some new regulations: Half of all salads and sandwiches in hospital cafeterias must be served with whole grains, and only healthy snacks will be displayed at cafeteria entrances and by the cash registers.

In Virginia, Fauquier Hospital demonstrates a more far-reaching commitment to offering healthy food, serving patients meals from its “bistro” cafeteria. Food service staff use produce grown in the hospital’s “culinary healing garden” in meals for patients and visitors. For items the garden can’t grow, the hospital turns to local farmers.

Much of the hospital’s food is made from scratch, including salad dressings. Meals are cooked to order, and a staff member personally takes orders from each patient.

Healthier foods in your hospital

Changes in your hospital don’t have to be as drastic, but shifting your own hospital’s focus to offering healthier foods takes time and commitment from staff members, who must then pass along the value to patients and their families.

To encourage buy-in to a healthy eating initiative from all staff, hospital execs should:

  • look over their food and beverage contracts to determine the most cost-effective way to provide healthier options,
  • consider utilizing more sustainable food sources, such as produce from local farms,
  • emphasize the importance of food in the hospital’s general commitment to health, and
  • create a committee to explore the hospital’s current food offerings and come up with healthier alternatives.

The CDC offers more info for hospitals looking to expand their healthier offerings, as does the website for Healthy Food in Healthcare, a national initiative from Health Care Without Harm.

Questioning the value

Of course, it can be harder to get some people on board than others.

In fact, shortly before Mayor Bloomberg announced his ban on hospital junk food in NYC, the president of Brooklyn Hospital Center defended the chips and candy in emergency room vending machines, saying people prefer those foods when they’re in the midst of a health crisis.

It may be interesting to see how this hospital responds to the change.

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