16 Feb 12 Steps Toward A Money-Saving Sustainable Hospital Food Program
Nine excited hospital staff members at Samuel Mahelona Medical Center in Hawaii feasted on burgers, vegetables, and brownies. A seemingly typical meal. Yet, far from ordinary. This group of people were taste testing new vegan recipes for a sustainable food initiative at the hospital.
The burger was made from sweet potatoes and brown rice. The sides featured ulu chips avocado dipping sauce and fresh carrot slaw. The brownies were made with sweet potatoes. Most of the ingredients came from farms a stone’s throw from the hospital. All of the items were prepared from scratch.
No one could believe they were eating vegan food. Even those who rarely eat a meal without meat. One taste tester said, “I’m not a vegan but I would certainly eat this meal always! It was delicious and very filling.”
In recent decades, institutions have primarily served food from cans and boxes rather than cooking from scratch. Eggs come in liquid form, mashed potatoes arrive as flakes, and meats are pre-cooked and filled with preservatives. But healthy cooking from scratch is possible, and people want healthy food that tastes delicious more than ever.
The Path to Sustainability
1. Establish a shared vision: what matters to all stakeholder groups and where is the overlap. With everyone on board to reaching for a common goal, the team can overcome obstacles.
2. Train your staff to cook from scratch or hire people with culinary experience. People who have been opening cans and boxes need to learn how to make recipes from scratch.
3. Weigh all the food that is left at the end of service. Then when you make it again look at how much you needed the last times. Eliminate waste. This is where you will find the money to purchase higher quality ingredients.
4. Determine proper portion sizes and teach all the servers. Weigh the portion sizes. Using scoops leads to varying portion sizes. Portions that are too big lead to waste, money that could otherwise be spent on making better food.
5. Keep the menu manageable in size. Instead of having 12 choices made hastily with processed ingredients, offer two choices that are fabulous. Your customers want food that tastes good.
6. Sample potential new menu items. Ask your customers what they think of the food and how it could be better. Conduct taste tests and surveys until everyone likes the food. Then use the taste tests and surveys to inform new menu items. Making food that people want to eat leads to higher rates of meal purchases and increased revenue.
7. Review supply and equipment needs to cook healthy food from scratch. Does the kitchen need a spiralizer to make zucchini noodle pasta or a brazier to cook large batches of food in short amount of time.
8. Capture relevant data – how many people are eating each day; how much each recipe costs; how much is spent on food, supplies, and labor; what is the monthly revenue; how much local farm food is purchased each month; how much fresh foods are purchased each month; and how many items are cooked from scratch.
9. Evaluate the data you collect. This deserves a separate mention from capturing data. Most kitchen staff capture data. Very few kitchen staff monitor and use the data to optimize profits.
10. Take the cafeteria staff to visit farms. When they see what it takes to get food from a seed to the kitchen door, they will put more care into cooking it.
11. Secure local farm food vendors. Produce harvested and transported down the road tastes better, probably retains more nutrients, and definitely looks fresher than produce shipped from 1500 miles away that spends long days and nights on the truck.
12. Integrate the cafeteria program into the DNA of the institution and the community. Make it a part of everyone’s life through appropriate communications and education.
Children need healthy food to grow, patients need healthy food to recover, and adults need healthy food to live the life we dream. Whether we want to spend time with grandkids, make our community a better place to live, or complete fitness challenges, we all need the proper nutrition to feel our best and have the energy to accomplish our goals.