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

Managing Your Business
busy kitchen

While catering a wedding for a previous employer years ago, Rahul Shrivastav—now director of catering at University of Michigan—found himself in a panic when an elevator malfunction put salad service on hold. “The wedding was in a very old building and the elevator had issues,” he says. “We had 200 plated salads in the freight elevator when it got stuck. The dinner needed to start—they were doing their toasts.” In a panic, Shrivastav hustled up a plan B: His team would station a chef outside the ballroom, and he’d plate new salads right there.

Luckily, the elevator was fixed in...

Ideas and Innovation
soup sandwich

Aside from Black Friday shoppers, there may be no crowd of people more eager to get to their bounty than wedding guests headed for the passed appetizers. While they’re surely thrilled for the bride and groom, that feeling comes second to the thrill of landing that first shrimp skewer—especially after a long ceremony. Same goes for work-related cocktail parties. Caught up in an awkward conversation? Oh look, it’s the mini-grilled cheese guy!

This month, FoodService Director takes a deep dive into catering, from the latest and greatest in menus to starting a new program at your...

Ideas and Innovation
shrimp lemon

In an interview with Bon Appetit magazine, Victor Clay, a line cook at Nobu Dallas in Texas, reveals his two simple tricks to prep an average of 15 to 20 shrimp per minute.

First, use kitchen shears to split the back of the shrimp. Then, before removing the vein, run the shrimp under cold water, which will loosen the vein. This cuts down on cleaning time, and prevents cooks from having to soak and rinse the shrimp afterward.

Menu Development
beau rivage resort blended burger

Stealth health is so 1998. When author Evelyn Tribole’s original book on sneaking healthy add-ons into meals was published nearly 20 years ago, there may have been a genuine nutrition need to fill. But as today’s diners are increasingly requesting more produce at the center of the plate, another need has taken the lead: a desire for creativity. Here’s how operators are openly blending meat with other ingredients—or eliminating animal products entirely—to take protein to another level.

In April, dining halls at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., began offering the Beyond Burger, a...

FSD Resources