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Serving Delicious and Healthy Food in Hospitals

Nicole King came to EMHS in 2015 to follow her passion. She is a trained chef, holds a degree in human nutrition, and is the healthy foodservice coordinator with EMHS’ Community Health and Grants department. Nicole is using her knowledge and training to help change the way people eat at our hospitals, thereby supporting healthier, more vibrant communities.
Nicole King, healthy foodservice coordinator with EMHS’ Community Health and Grants
As a system, EMHS made a plan for fiscal 2017 to improve access and availability of healthy food and beverage options at our system’s foodservice environments as well as in the community. The Healthier Hospital Food program was created in October, 2016, to help EMHS reach this goal by implementing simple, sustainable changes. For example, using baked rather than fried foods, or reducing added sugar in recipes, can have meaningful nutritional effects. Nicole is coordinating this effort in conjunction with EMHS’ Partnerships to Improve Community Health collaboration, a three-year prevention initiative designed to improve population health.

Nicole recognizes the shift in nutritional awareness that helped pave the way for this program. “Consumer demand was not previously supportive of this type of work,” Nicole acknowledges. “But now, the national tastes are changing and people are more conscious of nutritional options, or they have specific dietary needs such as requiring low-sodium or gluten-free food.” She’s mindful that finding a balance between flavor, cost, and nutritional quality can be challenging. EMHS member organizations are finding it’s possible to offer nutritious, affordable, and delicious foods without sacrificing sales or demanding a lot of additional resources.

The Healthier Hospital Foods program is still in its early stages, but already EMHS members are seeing changes. Barb Haskell, dietary manager of Blue Hill Memorial Hospital, has brought forward an effort to provide healthful drink options at the hospital. Barb shares, “Our goal is to provide only 100 percent fruit juices in our vending machines, cafeterias, and to our patients. It’s a baby step in the right direction as a healthcare provider.” Simply placing water and low-sugar beverages at eye level in their cafeteria coolers was a manageable way to guide behavior. Barb emphasized the goal is not to force these choices. “We encourage people to make these healthy choices on their terms. They can still bring their preferred food or beverages into the hospital—we’d like to simply make the healthy choice the easy choice.”

Nicole created a toolkit for EMHS members to replicate these small but powerful changes, which includes lessons learned and successful strategies from a similar pilot program she recently completed. The toolkit is specifically designed by and for foodservice professionals to increase access and availability of healthy food and beverage options in cafeterias throughout the system.

Doug Michael, EMHS chief community health and grants officer, notes that this initiative has a far reaching effect. “When you think about it, EMHS hospitals feed thousands of staff and visitors with more than a million meals each year. We are fortunate to have creative food service leaders who are committed to making healthier foods available for everyone’s benefit. How we collectively source and serve food is central to who we are and how we achieve our mission at EMHS.”

By working together on innovative and targeted efforts, we hope to cultivate an environment where healthy options are easily accessible and available.

For more information about the program, contact Nicole King at nking@emhs.org or (207) 973-7794.