5 trends shaping the future of healthcare dining

From global flavors to elevated menus, here's what's rising to the top in healthcare foodservice.
buffet line.
Plant-based fare and global flavors are major menu trends in healthcare dining. / Photo: Shutterstock

Plant-based and global cuisine are taking over menus at healthcare facilities. And operators are looking to creative solutions for industry challenges, such as labor.

Healthcare foodservice has shifted dramatically over the last few years, some operators say.

Edward Bremme, executive chef at Pennswood Village, says his team is looking to push the envelope of what’s possible for a senior-living community.  He noted that the cuisine served at the Pennsylvania community could “rival fancy restaurants.”

Marta Hernandez, VP of culinary at foodservice provider HHS, agrees that the industry has shifted, noting that the workers, in particular, have changed.

“That worker today is different than they used to be years ago. Even post-COVID, that worker is a different worker than it was pre-COVID,” she said.

From menu trends to industry challenges, here’s a look at five trends shaping the future of healthcare dining.

Social responsibility is top of mind

For many healthcare operations, sustainability and social responsibility are top priorities.

Food waste, for instance, is an issue many healthcare operations seek to address, to benefit the bottom line as well as the environment. Foodservice management company Morrison Healthcare has implemented a waste tracking system at some of the hospitals it serves. Morrison now mandates that its 300 hospitals with the highest food costs use the program, and some hospitals have documented positive results. Morrison also supports food recovery programs to ensure as little goes to waste as possible.

Food insecurity is another challenge that some healthcare facilities are taking aim at. A recent survey found that 14% of seniors have skipped meals because of inflation, making food insecurity a pressing issue for senior-living facilities, in particular. Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare recently expanded its food donation program., while UCHealth University of Colorado hospital has teamed up with a local nonprofit, We Don’t Waste, to put leftover food to use.

More and more plants

Both Bremme and Hernandez agreed that plant-based fare is here to stay. Plants are popping up on more and more menus at facilities across the United States.

In New York, for instance, 11 NYC Health + Hospitals locations have started serving plant-based entrees as the default option for patients, and the dining staff says it’s going well so far. Northfield Hospital, whose foodservice is managed by HHS, recently revamped its salad bar and participated in a “meatless Monday” initiative.

Global flavors

Global flavors also show no sign of stopping in the healthcare segment.

“Our single most successful program is global bowls,” said Hernandez. “I think that trend is not going anywhere. I think that as our makeup as a people as country changes, so do our food needs. And I think that global trend is one of the strongest ones.”

Metz Culinary Management recently launched a Street Eats program, which often highlights global flavors, and also saw success with a halal dining pilot at two healthcare facilities.

Elevated menus

Sophisticated menus are finding their way to healthcare dining. Pennswood Village recently opened a fine-dining restaurant dubbed 1382, which serves dishes such as seared scallops and heirloom chicken breast stuffed with pears, fresh spinach and Parmesan cheese.

Even beverage offerings are getting a refresh. Cura Hospitality has upgraded its coffee offerings through vendor partnerships, while Morrison has created an internal coffee brand, Market Coffee, that now numbers about 100 locations.

Creative solutions to industry challenges

Both Hernandez and Bremme cited sourcing and staffing as major challenges. These issues are nothing new, but the way operators are responding to them has shifted. As Hernandez noted, the type of worker the industry is looking for has changed, which she says means it’s time to get creative when looking for ways to attract labor. The major key, she says, is pulling from a larger pool of applicants.

“So, we are looking at our schedules and making adjustments, and building new programs so that working can be a doable thing for single parents, for students, for retirees, a big plethora of folks,” said Hernandez. “So, we’re just opening that up, so we have the biggest possible pool to pull from.”

A couple solutions her team has come up with are part-time positions and shifting toward 12-hour shifts instead of its traditional 8-hour ones.



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