Stanford Hospital starts organic, sustainable patient menu

A new organic and sustainable patient menu named Farm Fresh was launched three months ago at 613-bed Stanford Hospital & Clinics. All items on the Farm Fresh menu are local-within 200 miles of the campus-sustainable and organic. The menu is available for lunch and dinner.

The Farm Fresh menu consists of a choice between two soups or an organic vegetable salad with a whole-grain bread, dessert and beverages. The soup selection is a chicken noodle soup with vegetables or the soup of the day, which could be cauliflower soup with rosemary, a roasted sweet pepper soup with goat cheese, roasted tomato soup with herbs and a carrot ginger soup with curry. If a patient selects the soup of the day, he can choose to add grass-fed meatballs, poached organic chicken or smoked tofu as a protein for the soup.

Patients can select to have the regular menu or the Farm Fresh menu, and Executive Chef Beni Valesquez said the program is gaining in popularity. "We started out with between 10 and 12 orders a day and now we are doing between 60 and 75," he says. Patients who choose the Farm Fresh menu are given a copy of the soup's menu to take home.

Valesquez said the idea for the Farm Fresh program was born out of a conversation between one of the hospital's cardiologists, Bobby Robbins, and local restaurateur, Chef Jesse Cool, who is known for her all organic restaurant. "It was just talk for a while, but when we were making some changes in the foodservice department, which happened in December, we started figuring out how we could bring in this program," Valesquez said.

One of those changes was bringing in Valesquez as the hospital's executive chef. "Stanford hired me because I come from hotels and restaurants, and the idea was to bring in a chef who had never worked in a hospital environment but could bring in that five-star quality," Valesquez said. So Valesquez and Cool began collaborating to see how they could bring the idea of a local, sustainable meal program to patients at Stanford.

"It's pretty much night and day," Valesquez said about the change in patient menus. "It's definitely a big change in how we think about how we are producing stuff and where it's coming from. It's coming in without any additives or preservatives, so we definitely don't want to add any additives or preservatives to it. So the process of how you would cook in a big institution has had to change. It's challenging at times because you have cooks and chefs and this is pretty much all they've known. They have worked here 20 years. So to come in and say, ‘no, we are actually going to sauté, grill, broil, and cook with olive oil and real butter,' it's a little different for them. The challenge is getting everyone onboard and getting everyone to understand how we need to cook."

Valesquez said after training and explaining the benefits of the program, the staff has come onboard with the idea.

"Farm Fresh is just the beginning," Valesquez said. "This program has helped us open the door to be able to do more things throughout the hospital. It will trickle into catering, the cafeteria and the restaurant we have upstairs. There is a high cost involved. We have to look at cost and be realistic and see what we can do. Our vendors are willing to talk with us and based on our consumption and amount we are ordering, they may possibly be able to help us with some cost issues."

Valesquez hopes that by next year, most of the hospital will be using the Farm Fresh menu.

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