What is "stealth health?"

Term may seem foreign, but the concept isn’t.

Fifty-two percent of operators aren’t familiar with the term “stealth health,” according to research from The Big Picture. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t practicing it in their operations.

For some, like Joann Shearer, food and nutrition services director at Avera Heart Hospital in Sioux Falls, S.D., the reasoning lies in the definition. “I wasn’t sure how stealth health was defined,” she says. “After I started talking about what we do to improve the nutritional quality of what we serve, I got to thinking maybe that is stealth health.

When Avera Heart Hospital opened 12 years ago the café was designed as a healthy dining location. Shearer says the department was up front with customers about its healthy dining philosophy, so she didn’t think any stealth health was actually taking place. In reality, Shearer has been practicing stealth health—sneaking in better-for-you items or preparation, often in small ways that customers don’t notice. For example, Shearer adds beans to entrées to cut down on the amount of red meat an item contains, and she substitutes ground flax seeds for flour in baked items.

For Shearer’s meat and potato crowd, she found she can’t use the word “vegetarian” to market her nonmeat options. Instead she finds other ways to describe them that don’t draw attention to the fact that they contain no meat.

Maryann Lazzaro, R.D., foodservice director at Plum Borough (Pa.) School District, says she wasn’t familiar with the stealth health concept, but notes she was using stealth health tactics, such as adding spinach to spaghetti sauce and beans to taco meat.

Lazzaro is also packing more vegetables into her students’ diets. She’s reviving an old recipe for a sweet potato cake. “Nobody has to know it’s a sweet potato cake,” she says. “It’s a spice cake.

She’s also trying to add blueberries to syrup to cut down on the calories, a tactic Lazzaro learned at a recent dietetics conference.

Some respondents—8%— say they know what stealth health is but don’t believe in the practice because they don’t think healthy items should be disguised. But Lazzaro says she doesn’t have a problem with using stealth health tactics as long as there isn’t an allergy problem that could be involved. “It’s like with whole grain,” she explains. “We didn’t really publicize [when we added these items]. We just did it, and students learned to accept it.

B&I operators were the most likely to use stealth health, with 36% saying they employ this concept whenever possible. Joan Homrich, general manager with Bon Appétit at Hill Country Café in San Antonio, uses stealth health in her operation, such as substituting 2% or skim milk for heavy cream in her soups.

Homrich isn’t surprised that so few of her non-commercial colleagues are familiar with stealth health. “There are so many people out there who don’t understand the concept of doing this without being noticed and still being able to create flavors and tastiness,” she says. “That’s the challenge. How can we do this and not lose the flavor?

Fast Facts

  • 51% of LTC/senior living facilities do not promote their healthy menu items. Anita Mays, dietary manager at Ridgewood Manor in Maumee, Ohio, says she doesn’t market her healthy choices because her residents—who are mostly older individuals—aren’t looking to change the way they eat at this stage in their lives.
  • 33% of operators don’t post nutritional information for the items they serve. LTC/senior living is the most likely not to offer this service, at 57%.

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
amazon prime delivery

About 90% of our students receive financial assistance and participate in our free and reduced-price meal program. But a number of students in our district study remotely due to circumstances such as chronic illness. In January, we hired a driver to deliver meals to students who aren’t able to step into our cafeteria each day.

Ideas and Innovation
wheaton emerson int salad bar

Restaurant design is all about catching a customer’s eye —and it’s sometimes particularly beneficial to be far-sighted. As Airbnb has proven with its San Francisco headquarters, where cafe spaces are inspired by cities like Cairo and Mumbai, elaborate design schemes that evoke far-flung geographic regions can be done to great effect. But operators are finding simpler ways to achieve that feel.

That’s been the experience of Kutztown University Dining Services in Pennsylvania. Kent Dahlquist, director of housing and dining services, says that when the university decided several years...

Managing Your Business
overtime payroll timesheet

Just eight days before Dec. 1, when operators would have to comply with the U.S. Department of Labor’s new overtime rules, a federal judge in Texas slapped an injunction on the regulation. The move indefinitely halted the rules that would have doubled the overtime threshold to $47,476, affecting nearly 4.2 million workers, according to the DOL. For some operators, the move was too little, too late. Now, they have to answer to employees who had been briefed on promised wage increases.

Kansas Memorial Union at the University of Kansas in Lawrence made changes ahead of the deadline...

Ideas and Innovation
ucmc model

With a budget and timeline in place, and the support of the university behind them, the foodservice team at the University of Chicago Medical Center was ready to get rolling with the renovation of one of its patient services kitchens. The facility, which services the hospital’s Center for Care and Discovery and Comer Children’s Hospital, was tripling in size to serve two additional patient floors, to the tune of $9 million. But that didn’t mean immediately jumping in with steel and screws.

“First, we cut out scaled pieces of paper and moved things around,” says Elizabeth Lockwood,...

FSD Resources