Robert Wood Johnson Debuts "Dining for All Seasons"

Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital has updated its in-patient menu with no more fried foods, more fresh ingredients and the offering of in-demand foods considered “seasonal” year-round.

The Food & Nutrition Department at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) has updated its in-patient menu with no more fried foods, more fresh ingredients and the offering of in-demand foods considered “seasonal” year-round, all in recognition of the hospital’s 10-year anniversary of room service Dining.

“With Dining for All Seasons, we’re introducing new menu items and other changes which we feel will exceed patients’ expectations,” says Tony Almeida, director, Food & Nutrition Department at RWJUH. “I still remember how excited my team was in October 2003 to be the first 600-bed hospital in the Northeast to introduce Room Service Dining hospital-wide. Our priority then remains the same today—to increase patient satisfaction.”

Dining for All Seasons debuts this month. It features 20 percent more entrees and offers no fried foods, making RWJUH among few hospitals, regionally, to make that change, Almeida says.

“We are now fried food-free!” declares Jill Hanscom, MPA, RD, assistant director for Patient Service (Food & Nutrition) at RWJUH. “Our patients have been looking toward a healthier menu and our dietitians feel strongly that we can support our patients’ recovery better by offering healthier alternatives to traditional fried foods. For example, instead of French fries, patients can now order gourmet potato wedges, which taste just as good and are just as crispy but are baked in the oven to reduce the saturated fat.”

The fried food-free and more diversified menu offerings also give certain patient populations, such as cardiac patients, more options, Hanscom adds.

Another big change? Meals will be made with more fresh ingredients. “We want to minimize the use of frozen products in meal preparation,” Hanscom explains. "So for example, our hash browns, which were frozen and deep fried, will now consist of potatoes diced and cooked fresh daily. The goal, again, is to make our offerings healthier to support our patients.”

Dining for All Seasons also incorporates, based on patient feedback, the most requested food items year-round. “Comfort foods such as our home-style meatloaf or beef minestrone soup, which many consider to be season-specific, can be ordered for room service any time now,” says Hanscom.

To deliver these changes, training for the hospital’s kitchen staff has evolved, says RWJUH Executive Chef Tim Gee, a CIA graduate. “We have rolled out a new program, called ‘RWJ White Toque Culinarians,’ to help our employees elevate their cooking skills,” he says. “They’re focused on mastering the five cooking foundation techniques—sautéing, braising, grilling, pan searing and roasting—because once you master the basics, they can be applied to any recipe.”

Gee says about half of the cooks are trained and the remainder will complete training by the end of this year.

Gee, RWJUH Sous Chef Nick Mercogliano, who also is a graduate of the CIA, and Hanscom worked together closely to develop the menu for Dining for All Seasons.

The patient menus also are redesigned and have a restaurant-like look and larger, more easily readable print. Numerous versions (including Spanish, Kosher, Children’s and Dysphagia) will also be available.