Pitt County Memorial Hospital opens heart healthy café

Sept. 10-The 861-bed Pitt County Memorial Hospital is pushing healthy dining options to the forefront in its retail operations in an effort to improve employees' health and wellness. One of the ways Pitt County is achieving this is with the opening of a heart healthy café in the East Carolina Heart Institute, which is adjacent to the main hospital.

FoodService Director - Pitt County Hospital - heart healthy cafe"The menu consists of 80% heart healthy items, meaning that it meets the FDA guidelines for heart healthy," said Russ Currie, general manager of food and nutrition for Aramark at the hospital. Menu options are low in fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. Currie said the café uses better-for-you preparation techniques like steaming in addition to using foods that promote better heart health, such as olive oils. "We have fryers over there that have never been used," he added.

Although pizza is on the menu at the café, it is a healthier version, with whole-wheat crust, low-sodium cheese and sauce and toppings like pepperoni are swapped for chicken sausage.

The café also offers salads, sandwiches and sushi. Healthy snacks such as hummus, whole-grain snack bars, and soy and pita chips are also available. All beverages using milk are made with skim milk unless a customer requests otherwise.

Currie said that about 23% of total sales come from the heart healthy café, which opened in January. About 800 meals a day are served in the café.

The heart healthy café isn't the hospital's first venture into healthy dining options. Ever since a call to action by the health system's CEO in 2003, Pitt County has offered at least one healthy selection at each of the main café's stations, and healthier grab-and-go items are placed at eye level and at impulse buying areas, such as the cash registers.

Another component of the foodservice program is heart healthy Fridays, when a meal consisting of an entrée, vegetable and starch is offered. The meal has fewer than 500 calories.

FoodService Director - Pitt County Hospital - heart healthy cafeCurrie said the push toward healthy has been gradual. "It was and will continue to be an evolution," Currie said. "Eastern Carolina communities tend to be unhealthy as far as their eating behaviors, so we felt that doing a super aggressive change was not in our best interest and that we would try to move people along the continuum of healthy. My goal is that I don't want people to leave campus. I want to provide what they want here and also to help with their health and wellness."

Currie said that since the healthy changes have been made, there has been an increase in people buying at least some component of a healthy meal.

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