BRISTOL, Tenn. – Sous Chef Shelly Herndon pointed to a green plate holding grilled salmon topped with pineapple chutney, rice pilaf and mixed vegetables that she proudly put on display in the Bristol Regional Medical Center’s cafeteria line.
“Everything here is made from scratch,” the hospital’s assistant chef said before the lunch rush started pouring in. “We’re doing this so people can eat healthier.”
Herndon and her colleagues started preparing low-fat, low sodium entrées like the grilled salmon plate and serving them to the hospital’s 800 to 900 daily customers as part of a new wellness program the hospital launched Oct. 25.
“We are a hospital and we provide wellness,” said Carol Fleenor, the hospital’s director of food and nutrition services. “It just fits in with our mission to provide healthy options for our customers.”
The cafeteria’s staff cooks the wellness meals using special recipes developed by Sodexho, the hospital’s food services company, that contain less than 800 milligrams of sodium, 100 milligrams of cholesterol and almost no saturated or trans fats.
By meeting those nutrition goals, the wellness meals are designed to help people fight two major health problems – heart disease and obesity – that affect a rapidly growing segment of the population both in the region and across the country.
Fleenor said the hospital cafeteria started offering wellness meals six weeks ago because customers regularly asked for healthier menu options when they filled out surveys evaluating their dining experiences.
The cafeteria prepared only 30 to 40 wellness meals each day when the program started, she said, but quickly increased to 80 meals a day. Now, she said, the cafeteria is serving the special menu items to about 10 percent of its daily customers.
“We still have French fries and other things like that available,” Fleenor said.
She also said many customers are picking the wellness menu items over the hospital’s regular menu items, which might not be as healthy as the special meals.
Still, Fleenor said, the cafeteria has no plans to do away with any of its regular menu items and is instead relying on an aggressive marketing campaign and pricing structure to get its customers to pick the wellness items.
When the hospital signed up for the wellness program, Fleenor said, staff decorated the facility’s hallways with signs and posters that provide information on healthy eating and a link to a Sodexho-managed website that gives them more information about nutrition.
They also sell the wellness meals, such as Herndon’s salmon plate, for prices that are about 10 to 20 cents cheaper than regular menu items: The new grilled chicken meal costs less than fried chicken and turkey burgers are sold for less than hamburgers.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle the hospital faced when rolling out the new menu was retraining its cafeteria staff to follow the recipes to the letter and not add things here or there as they cooked the food, Chef John McGiboney said.
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