Nanci Hellmich, USA TODAY
Forget mystery meat and green Jell-O.
Those typical hospital foods that have been ridiculed for years are being replaced by more nutritious fare, such as flatbread pizzas, turkey meatloaf, heart-shaped frozen yogurt desserts, baked chicken and baked french fries.
The Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) is announcing Thursday that as many as 400 more hospitals, which use Morrison Healthcare Food Services, are joining PHA's program to offer healthier fare to patients, visitors and employees. Overall, as many as 550 hospitals will now be participating in the program. Michelle Obama is the honorary chairwoman of PHA, a non-profit that shares the same mission as the first lady's Let's Move! campaign (letsmove.gov) - to reduce childhood obesity.
Hospitals participating in the healthier food program are asked to:
- Offer a daily lower-calorie healthy meal and children's healthy meal in their cafeterias and on patients' menus. Those meals must meet specific food and nutrition standards, and cafeteria meals must be priced less than or equal to other meals.
- Remove all fryers and deep-fried products.
- Offer only healthy foods near cash registers, instead of candy bars and salty snack foods.
- Increase the amount of fruits and veggies they offer.
- Serve more healthful beverages, such as water, 100% fruit juice and vegetable juice, unflavored low-fat and fat-free milk, teas and coffee.
One of the goals of the program is "to highlight healthier options, especially in hospital settings where you'd expect to have the healthiest options available to you," says endocrinologist James Gavin III, chairman of PHA's board of directors. "Hospitals should be leading the charge to improve nutrition standards for patients, staff and family members and the public that they serve."
Courtenay August, director of food and nutrition services for Morrison at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, has been working for several years to improve the nutritional quality of meals. The hospital now serves its young patients entrees such as a ground-turkey meatloaf shaped like a cupcake and topped with a dollop of mashed potatoes and bits of carrots.
There's a flatbread breakfast pizza topped with fresh berries, and healthier desserts including frozen yogurt shaped like a heart and a gluten-free chocolate cake made with cocoa powder and a black-bean paste that customers can't taste.
"It's like a regular chocolate cake. You would never guess it has black beans in it," August says. "We don't market the cake as healthy. We use the stealth-health approach. It has the extra health benefit from the fiber." Ditto on the tomato soup, which has white beans blended into it to increase the fiber.
Anita Widmayer, director of food and nutrition services for Kaiser Permanente Orange County, has been participating in PHA's healthier hospital food commitment and says she already has made many of the recommended changes, including offering more fresh vegetables and fruits, cutting out sugary beverages and removing deep fryers.
The hospitals offer a variety of nutritious choices including a salad bar, sandwich bar, healthy meal options and vegetarian pizza, Widmayer says, and they're using light mayonnaise, whole-wheat bread, ice cream with less sugar, and canned fruit in juice instead of syrup. Yet they also still have pepperoni pizza, meatloaf and ribs.
Not surprisingly, some customers have whined about the fact that the french fries are baked instead of fried, but Widmayer says she is getting a new piece of equipment that will make them taste more like regular fries.
And yes, the hospitals still offer Jell-O. Says Widmayer: "A lot of people still need the sugary Jell-O, particularly if they are on a clear-liquid diet."