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Leading the Way at Partnership for a Healthier America

How a Unique Partnership Made Healthy Eating the Expectation, Not the Exception

By: Lisa Roberson, RDN, LD, National Director of Wellness & Sustainability

It’s cool to look back and see when wellness and healthy food became the new normal.

When we decided five years ago to join a national movement to improve food nutrition, I didn’t realize it would “flip the script” on healthy eating in hospitals. In many ways, it was the start of a new era where healthy food in hospitals became the expectation instead of the exception.

Lisa Roberson, RDN, LD helps lead the way at the 2018 Partnership for a Healthier America Summit.

Here’s a great example. Like many hospitals, a few years ago our café at the South Georgia Medical Center in Valdosta, Georgia, often served three fried foods on its menu every day. It wasn’t unusual for visitors to be offered fried chicken tenders, fried eggplant parmesan and french fries, all in one meal. Working with the chef and the hospital, we significantly reduced the number of fried offerings while maintaining the community’s tradition of serving fried chicken on Sundays after church services.

A quick history lesson: In 2013 Morrison became the first contract foodservice company to join The Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), an organization created to eliminate childhood obesity. In collaboration with former First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative, PHA mobilized leaders from across the food industry to attack this problem.

Morrison agreed to lead PHA’s Hospital Healthy Food Initiative, committing to up our game in nearly 400 hospitals. This meant meeting PHA’s goals for nutrition labeling, healthy food marketing, wellness meal offerings, and increases in healthy beverages and fruits and vegetables. By leading this effort, we were helping set a new national standard in providing healthy hospital food.

Five years later, I can see that the timing was perfect for these kinds of sweeping changes. Our approach not only fits into our own wellness platform, but was in sync with hospital administrators looking for turnkey solutions to promote wellness and preventive medicine.

Last month I addressed a national group of leaders in business, government and healthcare at PHA’s annual summit to report on our accomplishments. Over the past five years, here’s what we’ve done:

  •       A 59 percent reduction in sugary snacks and drinks at all registers
  •       A  147 percent increase in bottled water sales at the registers
  •       83 percent of our cafes offer whole grains as its preferred choice
  •       100 percent label calories for all food and drinks

Not surprisingly, each of the 389 hospitals has a different approach to meeting PHA’s goals, but a few were all in. One of our shining examples is the Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center on Sunset Boulevard, just down the block from the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Led by Jan Villarante, director of National Nutrition for Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, the hospital no longer serves sugar-sweetened drinks in cafes and vending machines, removed all deep-fat fryers and deep-fried products from cafes and patient menus, and meets PHA’s nutritional standards for 60 percent of entrees and side dishes.

Making sure we promote our nutritious food is critical, too. So we integrated PHA’s marketing approach by promoting healthy images of food into our own platform in our patient menus and cafés. A good example is pizza, where we featured a thin-crust, whole-grain flatbread topped with vegetables or herbs and a small amount of cheese.

It’s sometimes easy to forget the impact food can have on a person, but I saw how it could make a difference in the lives of my friends. After reading one of my posts on Facebook, a friend who works as a registered nurse in Montgomery, Alabama, was eating lunch at one of our cafes. She noticed the PHA posters on the walls and sent me a text asking “Is this you?”  When I responded, she was ecstatic. “I love the new meals we have in the café. I can finally eat healthy,” she said.

PHA’s May summit in Washington D.C. culminated our five-year commitment to the organization, though we’ll continue to work closely to learn all we can. More important, our experience has created the momentum to take the lead on other ideas to promote healthy eating. We’ll focus on these initiatives going forward:

Teaching Kitchens

Culinary education starts by linking nutrition and health, so conducting teaching kitchens will be a staple for us. One of the newest examples is the teaching kitchen at the Cleveland Clinic, which shows employees and others how to prepare and cook healthy food.

  • Ever seen one? Check out this one from Yale New Haven Hospital.

Food Waste Reduction and Donation

Stop Food Waste Day and the pledge by Compass Group USA to reduce food waste by 25 percent by 2020 will save money and feed more people.

Imperfectly Delicious Produce

Compass and Morrison continue to “rescue” or purchase imperfect fruits and vegetables from growers and distributors – produce that might have languished or been sent to composting for meeting an artificial standard of attractiveness.

Plant-Forward Diets

A great example is how we worked with Boston Medical Center to build a rooftop garden that grows 16,000 pounds of fresh, organic fruit and vegetables that will grow there each season. Morrison chefs will use the very locally sourced produce in the patient meals and in the café to be enjoyed by guests and hospital staff.

The biggest outcome of the PHA partnership is that it’s changed our expectations. With our patients and visitors riding shotgun, we’ll continue our drive to fulfill our next challenge on this wonderful journey.

Join the Morrison Healthcare Family

Lisa Roberson chose Compass One Healthcare and Morrison because of the opportunities she has to touch the lives of patients and staff. Morrison is a proud part of Compass One Healthcare and Compass Group USA. If you’re interested in a career in healthcare, be sure to check out team member or management opportunities to join the Morrison family through Compass Group Careers.

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