Local, sustainable ingredients resonate with healthcare clients

local produce

From Chicken of the Sea.

Seattle Children’s Hospital has maintained an herb garden for more than a decade, but in recent years the plots have been expanded to include crops like berries, snap peas, radishes and tomatoes. That bounty shows up in places like the salad bar or marinara sauce. The hospital’s goal is to increase its reliance on local and sustainable foods by 20% every year.

Seattle Children’s is not alone: hospitals across the country are ramping up production of their own foods, partnering with local farmers and producers, hosting farmers’ markets on the premises and seeking additional avenues to raise awareness of their commitment to serving sustainable foods to patients and visitors.

These are smart responses to calls from consumers for food that’s not only sourced locally and sustainably, but that also satisfies a craving for healthier dining choices. And it’s clear that many consumers equate local with healthy. According to Technomic’s 2016 Healthy Eating report:

  • 49% of consumers say they consider restaurant food and beverage items labeled “local” healthier, while another 40% say the same about items labeled “sustainable.”
  • 70% of consumers say they are more inclined to purchase local foods at restaurants; 57% are more likely to order selections made from sustainable ingredients.

Growing or sourcing local produce represents just one piece of the puzzle in meeting that demand. Seafood sustainability is another hot button issue for many consumers. In Technomic’s 2017 Center of the Plate: Seafood & Vegetarian report, 41% of consumers say it’s important that it be sustainable.

The combination of fresh produce and seafood also lines up well with healthy eating recommendations, including the Mediterranean Diet, the MIND Diet, the DASH Diet and the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans, among others.

Incorporating more local produce into healthcare menus isn’t always the easiest process. Unlike precut, frozen and other processed fruits and vegetables, fresh-from-the-garden or local farm product demands more attention, time and labor. With high volumes, hospitals that go this route often need to find ways to trim labor in other ways. Using speed scratch recipes that incorporate ready-to-use proteins, bases, sauces and other time-saving products is a terrific solution for time- and labor-strapped foodservice departments.  Sustainably sourced convenience seafood—shelf-stable salmon and tuna, for example—provides a natural fit for recipes here, combining ease of preparation with a healthy profile.

Serving fresh-picked, local produce demonstrates more than just a commitment to more sustainable operations. Showcasing seasonal products shows a healthcare operator, by sourcing high-quality ingredients, is dedicated to ensuring and patient/visitor satisfaction. In addition, the story behind these products helps burnish a healthcare operator’s image as an environmentally responsible health and wellness advocate.

Interested in learning more? “Local Produce: Farm to Foodservice” is a free continuing education course that can be found at tunaversity.com. It’s approved for dietary managers, RDNs, and certified chefs. In addition, a collection of speed-scratch recipes is available at chickenofthesea.com/foodservice.

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