Plant-based foods have grabbed the spotlight over the past year or so, with the bulk of the buzz coming from vegetarian meat substitutes and a shifting role from side dish to center of the plate. Ironically, at the same time, 90% of Americans are failing to meet the minimum daily recommendations for fruit and vegetable consumption, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Closing that gap is even more important in healthcare settings, where good nutrition is an essential aspect of healing as well as simply maintaining good health. Menus at healthcare facilities are evolving to reflect a commitment to better health for patients and visitors alike. Luckily, there are a few easy ways for operators to hop on board.
More produce, updated menus
On-site gardens at healthcare facilities have caught on across the country, with crops used both in nutrition services and at local farmers markets. A number of hospitals have joined groups like Pennsylvania’s Good Food, Healthy Hospitals initiative, pledging to provide healthier, more sustainable options to patients, staff and visitors. Member Episcopal Hospital in Philadelphia, for example, offers patients their choice of fruits from a fruit basket at each meal.
Retreat Doctors Hospital in Richmond, Va., reworked its retail and patient menu to honor traditional favorites such as meatloaf and roast turkey, balancing them with fresh vegetable sides; replacing gravy with low-sodium glazes; adding vegetarian entrees; and moving away from deep-fried and toward pan-fried or grilled proteins.
Retreat’s approach is subtle. Rather than asking patrons to make sweeping changes in their eating habits—going vegetarian entirely, for instance—the hospital improves the healthy profile of popular and familiar foods. Hospital patients, visitors, staff and nursing home residents already crave the familiar taste of classic comfort foods; tweaking those favorite dishes to include healthful produce additions is an effective way to boost their nutritional value. Mixing up the menu is also a great way to provide a change of pace for regular guests.
Prepared foods present a huge opportunity for healthy and flavor-driven customization. Macaroni and cheese, for example, is the quintessential blank palette: Adding tomatoes, roasted pureed squash or sweet potatoes, chopped spinach, broccoli, cauliflower or other vegetables provides a quick and delicious boost in nutrition and flavor.
Mac and cheese is only one example in Stouffer’s lineup of classic entrees that can be easily adapted and updated with simple additions and tweaks. Vegetable Lasagna, already a plant-forward center-of-the-plate star, gets a kick from a drizzle of kale-parmesan pesto and can be paired with a side salad or roasted vegetables. Classic Lasagna takes on Mexican flair with a charred poblano-cilantro cream sauce, chile-seasoned shrimp and crumbled cotija cheese. And Stouffer’s Stuffed Cabbage gets a spicy spin and a deeper plant-based profile with the addition of a coconut milk red curry, carrots and zucchini noodles.
Whether a facility’s goal is stealth health or keeping up with current dining trends, customizing tried-and-true classics with innovative updates is a subtle way to ramp up nutrition and provide a welcome and beneficial change of pace for healthcare patients and residents, all while offering their favorite comfort foods.
This post is sponsored by Stouffer’s®