Making Healthy Work in Healthcare

By 
Paul King, Editor

Surprising as it may be, selling healthy in hospitals isn’t as easy as it might seem. Patient menus, of necessity, follow a number of guidelines, but getting employees and visitors to eat more healthfully takes a little work. Here are three hospitals, two in the United States and one in Canada, that are making healthy menus successful.


Lee Memorial Health System, Florida

This health system, the third largest in Florida, recently implemented a Healthy Bucks Program to encourage employees to live healthier lifestyles. The program begins with a health assessment of interested employees and the development of a healthy regimen for them.

As a financial incentive, employees who agree to participate in the program receive a $150 Visa debit card once they complete their health assessment. The catch is that they can only use the card to purchase healthy goods and services. For example, they can enroll in fee-based nutrition and cooking classes.

Larry Altier, director of nutrition services for the health system, explains that the nutritional component of the wellness program is called Fresh Harvest. It consists of a number of menu items created to be healthier for customers. Each day, a Fresh Harvest entrée, vegetarian item and specialty salad are offered, each marked with an FH icon.

Fresh Harvest items are priced lower than similar items on the menu to encourage customers to select them. In addition, all Fresh Harvest items are available for purchase using the special Visa card.

Altier said Fresh Harvest has seen a steady rise in popularity since being rolled out last December. He estimated that about 40% of total cafeteria sales are currently of Fresh Harvest items. Phase II of Fresh Harvest will see the extension of the program into vending, beverages and desserts.

Wishard Health Services, Indianapolis

Target Your Health is the featured component of the wellness program at this Indiana health system, which features a 358-bed hospital and eight community health centers in metropolitan Indianapolis. According to Thomas Thaman, director of food and nutrition, Target Your Health consists of complete meals, each priced at $5—beverage included—that contain 400 calories or less and 10 grams of fat or less. The program is featured at Café Soleil, a 52-seat restaurant at Wishard.

Sales for Target Your Heart have grown by more than 150% since the program began, attesting to its popularity. Similar nutrition programs include Fit Picks, specially marked items in Wishard vending machines, and a smoothie station at the Wishard Café that sells 200-calorie smoothies for $3.50.

Thaman said the keys to making a wellness program work are to link the name with a specific and identified nutritional level, create a perceived value for the healthy selections, separate the serving location to minimize the possibility of customers making less healthy choices and to enhance the marketing of the program with live cooking demonstrations.

Alberta Health Services, Edmonton, Canada

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery but wanting to acquire a successful program has to rank up there, as well. That is what has happened in Alberta, where a successful retail wellness program called “healthy Trendz” may soon be expanded outside of Alberta Health Services.

Khaleed Khan, director of nutrition and food services for Alberta Health, which oversees foodservice for hospitals throughout the province, said administrators have given him permission to offer healthy Trendz as a franchise. He explained that contract management companies like Aramark and Compass Group have expressed an interest in the program.

Healthy Trendz is a 10-year-old program that offers healthy food in hospital retail outlets, following very strict guidelines on cooking techniques, portion sizes, and the use of fresh produce, whole grains, heart-healthy oils and herbs and spices instead of salt for flavoring. To help control sodium, the nutrition and food service department takes steps like roasting its own meats in house and taking lower-sodium broth and diluting it “20 times” before using it, according to Khan.

There are five iterations of healthy Trendz: a food market, a bistro, a café, an express program offering grab-and-go items and an in-line program that allows a hospital to offer the healthy Trendz menu items without a design element.

Although the program was introduced in 2000, the first “store” was opened at Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital in Edmonton in 2004. By 2009 there were five healthy Trendz units, and six more were opened in 2010. Store sales grew by 83% from 2005 to 2009, and by 100% in 2010.