Hospitals Rework Cafeteria Menus to Offer More Healthy Choices

UChicago Medicine AdventHealth is making changes to food served at cafes and kiosks.

Julie Busch, for Lake Union Herald
Hospitals Rework Cafeteria Menus to Offer More Healthy Choices
Paul Fischer, food and service director for UChicago Medicine AdventHealth Hinsdale and La Grange, and his colleague take inventory of the fresh produce in the walk-in refrigerator. [Bruce Powell, Bruce Powell Photography]

UChicago Medicine AdventHealth is making changes to the food served at its cafes and Grab and Go stands. The decision sprang from a desire to adhere more closely to an AdventHealth concept of CREATION Life, a Bible-based plan for building a life based on Choice, Rest, Environment, Activity, Trust, Interpersonal relationships, Outlook and Nutrition. 

“We wanted to move our hospitals back to their foundation of whole-person care and help improve the health and well-being of our visitors, patients, and team members,” Paul Fischer, food and service director for UChicago Medicine AdventHealth Hinsdale and La Grange, said. “We want to continue building a culture of life and wellness.”

Fischer and his staff added more fresh vegetables and fruits, as well as more plant-based, vegan, and organic entrees. They also increased the number of healthy snacks and removed some of the snack choices that were higher in sugar and fats. The new, healthier snack options have been among the more popular changes, Fischer shared, adding, “I can’t keep enough of some of them in stock.”

Each hospital is implementing changes based on their experience with the communities they serve. For example, UChicago Medicine AdventHealth GlenOaks already had been using only halal meat because there is a large Muslim population near the hospital. The hospital always has a vegetarian option in the salad bar, and it stocked mainly healthy snacks, Craig Rapacz, director of food and nutrition at GlenOaks, said. 

A UChicago Medicine AdventHealth La Grange Food Service team member stocks the salad bar with fresh, healthy ingredients as part of the hospitals’ new initiative to offer more food choices that promote healthier dining. [Bruce Powell, Bruce Powell Photography]

The hospital system is evaluating other ways to provide healthier choices and how beverage options can be changed to be healthier and more friendly to the environment. GlenOaks is a test case for making packaging more eco-friendly systemwide. Currently, no Styrofoam packaging is used in the café. “Everything we use in terms of packaging is eco-friendly and fully recyclable,” he said. 

In June, UChicago Medicine AdventHealth Bolingbrook hosted celebrity chef Bal Arneson, who held a healthy cooking demonstration for guests and leaders at the hospital. Some of those attending cooked alongside Arneson to learn how to prepare healthy recipes. 

At Bolingbrook, the focus is on local seasonal produce, according to Noelle Deatherage, director of dining services at the hospital. “Our approach is to look at what we can get that’s most local and in season,” she said.  

Deatherage provides vegetarian and vegan options at every meal. Bolingbrook has also transitioned to lower-sodium veggie-based chips and natural granola bars. Most sodas are either zero sugar or sugar-free, and a wide assortment of waters and juices is offered. 

She said the focus is on making healthier choices also tastier, and that has helped people respond well to the new menus. “When people are excited about the way the food tastes, they are less worried about what they can’t have,” she said. 

And like Fischer and Rapacz, she said the key is finding the right balance. “The biggest thing is making sure we are honoring our faith-based concerns and also making it satisfying to the consumers,” she said. 

The original version of this story was posted by the Lake Union Herald.

Julie Busch, for Lake Union Herald