Geisinger ratatouille

Geisinger’s ratatouille saute features tomatoes, onions, zucchini, eggplant, bell peppers and garlic with fresh basil.

Geisinger hones, expands healthful menu initiative

Geisinger 150 uses healthful ingredients to promote better-for-you dining in the system’s dining locations.

It’s often a struggle for hospitals to get their retail customers to actually select the healthier meal options. 

So Geisinger Health System, which has spent this year honing and expanding its Geisinger 150 healthful dining initiative, will put some muscle behind it in 2017.

The Danville, Pa.-based Geisinger Health System, which has 11 hospitals in Pennsylvania, has spent the past half year further tailoring the program started in late 2014 and will be promoting it more robustly this coming year, says Mary Ruzzi, Geisinger Health System foodservice nutrition program director.

The Geisinger 150, or G150, is based on 150 key ingredients—from artichoke hearts and peppers to whole grains and legumes—that offer high nutritional profiles and are prepared in healthful ways. 

“We now have as strategic plan on branding and marketing to go with it,” Ruzzi says. “We’re also collaborating with our wellness and nutrition departments to promote it. They will be doing vouchers to give out when people meet certain health goals; and then they can come down and try our G150 items. It’s an exciting time.”

In April, Matt Cervay was hired as system executive chef and has applied the G150 criteria to a new menu that will roll out to Geisinger’s retail locations in January.

geisinger asian vegetable medley
Geisinger’s Asian vegetable medley features steamed broccoli tossed with sautéed ginger, red peppers, snap peas and cremini mushrooms finished with a chili oil and toasted sesame. Photo: Geisinger

“Initially, the G150 idea was to feature key ingredients that have a great nutritional profile, which some might consider ‘superfoods,’” Ruzzi explains. “The idea was to develop recipes around these 150 ingredients, and they would meet nutritional requirements for calories and fat.”

When Cervay joined the Geisinger team earlier this year, the department decided the G150 items should reflect “the best food you can eat,” Ruzzi says, so criteria were added for fiber content, protein, processing and sodium. 

“Recipes had to contain a minimum of three of the G150 ingredients,” she says. In addition, the Geisinger system removed frozen vegetables from menus entirely and now relies on fresh produce.

Each month in 2017, Geisinger will feature new concepts and recipes across the health system, Ruzzi says, adding that January will see the debut of new salad bars.

Testing began earlier this year when Cervay developed 20 recipes for the fresh vegetable introductions at the retail outlets.

“He allowed site managers to decide which ones they were going to feature to complement their menus,” Ruzzi says. “Matt will develop another 28 to 30 recipes, and the site managers can determine how they are going to use them.”

Giving site managers the autonomy to select recipes that are tailored to their customer base is important, Cervay says.

“For the site manager, we’re not taking away any autonomy,” he says. “We’re not forcing anything. They have the option to do what they want. You get a lot more buy-in when they have a say to what goes on the menu.”

Ruzzi adds that the G150 recipes will be a “toolbox” for site managers to use.

Cervay says G150’s base offers a wide variety of ingredients from the common Brussels sprouts, cabbage and tomatoes to more adventuresome like bok choy, pumpkin seeds and sunchokes.

“An education piece will be important to the program going forward,” Cervay says, adding that part of that may include cooking demonstrations to familiarize customers with the more exotic of the 150 ingredients. “We want to blend the new stuff with those comfort favorites to teach a little more to customers and patients of what is out there.”

geisinger lentil salad
Geisinger’s Lentil Salad with Citrus Dressing. Photo: Geisinger

“We’re also building relationships with our vendors to source local produce,” says Ruzzi, who took her current position in July. In 2017, the system has set of a goal of being antibiotic- and hormone-free in its proteins, she adds.

The ultimate goal is to offer G150 on both the retail and patient platforms, Ruzzi says. “We’re looking to roll out a new patient menu for our healthcare system in 2018,” she says, “and with that we’ll offer the Geisinger 150 specials that are in our retail area to the patients for variety.”

Challenges have included the variations between size of the various Geisinger retail sites and the ability to get different pack sizes for the menu ingredients. “There are some purchasing challenges that we face,” she admits. 

Geisinger also is working on new branding for the G150 program that will allow identifiers on menus, to-go containers and websites.

“We’re getting very positive feedback,” Ruzzi says. “When people see the G150 identifier, they are really going to know that’s it’s a great, healthy item.”

Geisinger Health System operates the Geisinger Medical Center in Danville as well as hospitals and clinics across northeastern and central Pennsylvania.

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected]
Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

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