Operations

4 tips for a successful take-home meals program

Photograph courtesy of Hendricks Regional Health

As hospital staff at Hendricks Regional Health in Danville, Ind., faced longer, more stressful hours due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the health system’s foodservice team saw a growing need for frontline employees to have access to hot meals after work. 

“We noticed right away that our staff were working longer shifts, more shifts, and that they probably needed some help with meals at home,” Director of Nutrition and Dietetics Martha Rardin says. “At that same time, our grocery stores, as all across the country, were just depleted.”  

Rardin asked her chef if his team could craft take-home meals for hospital staff to purchase and reheat at home. Within a couple days, the team created four meals that include an entree, starch, vegetables and a salad, and feed between four and six people. 

Here’s how they were able to get the program successfully off the ground. 

1. Focus on popular, easy-to-prepare meals 

When deciding on what the take-home meals would be, the team looked at what existing dishes were popular with diners and whether any of them could be easily prepped beforehand. 

“We looked at what we could we prepare one day in advance, because we do need to add the prep time into it,” Rardin says.

The four meals they landed on center around comfort foods and include meatloaf, baked pasta, fried chicken and a chicken stir-fry. The meatloaf is the most popular of the four so far, Rardin says. 

2. Assemble the meals at pickup time

When first starting out, staff were packaging up each meal individually before diners would come to get them. However, as the program began to grow, the team found that making large batches of meal components and then assembling the meal right at the time of pickup was a more efficient method. 

3. Sell individual ingredients as well 

The foodservice team also worked with its vendors to obtain individual ingredients such as chicken breasts to sell to hospital staff. “We bought hundreds of pounds of potatoes and put four in a baggie. Same thing with onions, Rardin says. “We also sold loaves of bread.” 

Although the grocery stores are now pretty well stocked, the foodservice team is still providing some of these ingredients for purchase, she says. 

4. Ask the community for support 

While the take-home meals are being sold for $19.99, hospital staff will be able to get one for free for the next couple of weeks due to the generosity of the community. 

The foodservice team partnered with the hospital’s foundation to reach out to past donors and other community members to ask if they wanted to purchase a meal for a hospital staff member. Adam Scott, executive director of the foundation, says the community was eager to help and that, within three days, over 100 people donated to the cause. 

“That's purchasing the bill for at least six weeks of operation, just within the last three days,” he says.

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