Trends & Insights

Healthcare Venues Balance Nutrition, Indulgence

Monday, July 17, 2017

Foodservice operators offer a variety of burgers to satisfy patients, customers.

Perhaps nowhere else in foodservice is the balance between nutrition and indulgence as delicate as it is in the healthcare market.

Healthcare institutions such as hospitals serve multiple roles when it comes to their retail foodservice operations. On the one hand, by their definition such venues are expected to be authorities on health and nutrition, while on the other hand their customers often look to dining as a respite from the stress of their jobs or the burden of visiting sik loved ones.

As a result, these operators often try to be everything to everyone, with a balance of healthful options and indulgent fare. Increasingly, however, operators are taking a closer look at the recipes of their comfort foods to nudge them a little closer to the healthy end of the nutrition spectrum.

“We look to make all foods as healthy as possible,” says Mary Jo Kurko, corporate director of nutrition services at ABM Healthcare, which is based in St. Claire Shores, Michigan, and provides a broad range of services for healthcare facilities, including menu planning and nutrition.

ABM seeks to reformulate many of its comfort foods to make them more nutritious, incorporating small amounts of flavorful ingredients such as olive oil, soy sauce, Parmesan cheese, herbs and spices, for example, as alternatives to less healthful ingredients. It also posts nutritional information about all of its foods so that customers can make their own decisions about their diets, but often diners in healthcare facilities are seeking comfort foods that make them feel better at that particular moment.

“A lot of times people are coming into the cafeteria, and they are tired — they may have worked a 12-hour shift, and this may be the high point of their day,” says Kurko. “If they have had a bad day, they may not care about the nutritional information. They just want what looks good and tastes good to them.”

The comfort foods ABM offers include items such as casseroles, which the company seeks to make healthier by incorporating more vegetables and proteins, and burgers, which customers can choose to make as healthy or indulgent as they choose.

“We have several strategies for making burgers healthier,” says Kurko, citing the use of blended mushroom burgers — ground beef mixed with chopped portabella mushrooms and seasonings — as a menu special, along with burgers made with alternative proteins, such as a turkey burger and black bean burger.

Other options to provide healthy burger alternatives at ABM include giving customers the option to order a bun made with whole grains, a 100-calorie “thin bun,” or no bun at all if they would like their burger served between two leaves of romaine lettuce.

ABM also offers veggie toppings and a Greek yogurt-based dressing with Sriracha for its burgers, and reminds customers not to overdo it with indulgent toppings.

“We tell people that if you are piling on the toppings, what are you really going to taste?” says Kurko. “We tell them to maybe leave off the cheese or leave off the mayonnaise.”

AdvancePierre® Foods, a supplier of burger products to foodservice venues, suggests bun-less alternatives such as an All American Beef Mushroom Lettuce Wrap, made with an all-natural flame grilled beef mushroom burger topped with onion, tomatoes, American cheese and bacon wrapped in crisp iceberg lettuce. It also supplies turkey burgers and burgers made with Certified Angus Beef.

Meeting all needs

Similarly, Lisa Poggas, director of nutrition and environmental services for Parker Adventist Hospital, Castle Rock Adventist Hospital and Centura Corporate at Centura Health in Denver, says she tries to meet a wide variety of dining needs in the system’s foodservice venues.

“There are a lot of people in the hospital who are grieving or really upset, so they need food they feel good about,” she says. “It is important for us to be all things to all people, and burgers are a part of that.”

Parker Adventist Hospital, the largest venue Poggas oversees, offers a burger special in its café every day, along with a veggie burger option. It also occasionally features as a special a turkey burger, chicken burger, salmon burger or portabella mushroom burger.

Customers also have the option of ordering a burger without the bun or without cheese.

Reducing the fat content of the burger itself is not an option, however.

“We have talked about doing burgers with 90 percent lean and 10 percent fat, but they get really tough,” says Poggas. “So we stick with 80-20.”

At Castle Rock Adventist Hospital, where the facility feeds a lot of community members, customers can choose between sides of veggies such as caramelized Brussels sprouts or mashed sweet potatoes to have with their burgers.

“The burgers are really popular at Castle Rock,” says Poggas, noting that the venue also offers a half-pound burger that is a “huge hit.”

At University Hospital at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, sous chef Lisa Bote says burgers are a popular option at the Four Lakes Café, which feeds 4,000 to 5,000 people daily.

“We don’t want to take food away from people, because we know that a lot of our staff work in high-stress situations, and sometimes you just need a cheeseburger,” she says.

UW Health offers burgers with locally sourced meat — pasture-foraged beef raised in Wisconsin — says Bote, and offers them with free peppers and onions to encourage vegetable consumption. Free veggies were an option added last year as part of UW Health’s “52 Weeks of Wellness” effort, in which it sought to introduce new wellness initiatives each week.

“People definitely have an interest in plant-based foods,” she says, citing increasing customer interest in tofu at the café’s salad bar. “People are eating less meat, but they are eating better meat.”

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