The Big Idea: Hospital Food Fight

A competition between hospital raises money and encourages healthy dining.

Vicki Lipinski
Marketing & Fund Development Director
Stillwaters Cancer Resource Center, Milwaukee

Two years ago, as a fundraiser, we created Hospital Food Fight. We invite the different medical systems in the area to donate money in exchange for their participation in the event, and we also personally reach out to chefs at the hospitals to encourage their participation. There are various sponsorship levels, but a $2,500 minimum donation will allow them to compete. The goal here is not only to raise money for our organization, which provides support for cancer patients and their families, but also to demonstrate that hospital food isn’t “hospital” food anymore.

We set up certain criteria for the competition, such as it has to be food that could be served on a patient menu, it has to be cooked on site, it has to meet nutritional guidelines set down by the American Dietetic Association and it has to cost less than $5. Participating chefs submit their recipes ahead of time to be reviewed by a registered dietitian.

This year we had four hospitals that participated: Elmbrook Memorial Hospital, which is part of the Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare System; Aurora Healthcare’s Summit Medical Center; ProHealth Care’s Wausheka Memorial Hospital; and ProHealth Care’s Oconomowoc Memorial Hospital. They were competing for bragging rights; the winner gets a huge banner that reads “Best Hospital Food in Wisconsin” and a trophy. There were five judges, which included local chefs and a local radio personality.

In addition to the competition, which was held at the Milwaukee Marriott West, we invited local restaurants and catering companies to set up tasting stations. We also staged “savory seminars” for attendees. One seminar was a nutritionist talking about “eating the rainbow,” and another was a knife skills demonstration.

The winning hospital was Elmbrook, which was led by Chef Sean Durbin. His recipe was a Paella de Marisco with Sweet Potato Orzo. But all the chefs did a tremendous job demonstrating how good hospital food can be. We also were able to raise $33,000 at the event.

For the first two years we’ve invited only hospitals to compete. Next year we plan to invite assisted living facilities and retirement communities, because we know that there are chefs in those facilities who also are doing some amazing things.