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Hospitals and healthcare facilities have been given a challenge by the American Medical Association (AMA): Improve the health of patients, staff and visitors by providing healthful, plant-based meals that are low in fat, sodium and added sugars, and eliminating processed meats from menus.
Across the country, hospitals, healthcare facilities and foodservice providers serving the industry are already heeding the call, including Compass Group-owned Morrison Healthcare, which announced in September a national partnership on “veg-centric” menus.
"With a focus on healthful recipes that are delicious, elegant and easy to prepare, this partnership will help expand our repertoire and get guests and staff excited about food that's good for them and the planet,” says Cary Neff, vice president of culinary for Morrison, in a statement.
But many other operators are still exploring how they might meet that challenge.
Provided by foodservice industry insiders and food and nutrition experts, below are some tips to help make the AMA’s recommendation a reality at any facility.
1. FOCUS FIRST ON TASTE. We live in a fast-paced, fast-food world, yet more consumers say they focus on taste and nutrition than convenience. According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, 23 percent of Americans say the statement “I focus on the taste sensations of every meal” describes them very well, while 53 percent say that statement describes them fairly well.
“Nutrition doesn’t happen unless it tastes good,” says food and nutrition expert David Grotto. “It’s all about how the operators can execute the solution.”
If operators execute plant-based options well, the latest research shows consumers will order and eat them. According to Technomic’s 2015 Center of the Plate: Seafood and Vegetarian Consumer Trend Report, nearly half of consumers say they eat meatless meals at least once a week.
2. BOWL THEM OVER. Hospital and healthcare foodservice providers can take a cue from commercial restaurants where sales of healthy bowls filled with layers of good-for-you, mostly plant-based ingredients have been booming. Customizable and nutritious, bowls are an ideal way to pack flavor and nutrient-rich, plant-based proteins into one dish. Operators can easily adapt bowls to whatever they have on hand or what’s in season, and once vegetables and proteins are prepped, bowls come together in minutes.
3. GO INTERACTIVE. It’s not always what is being served, but how it’s being served that gets customers’ attention. Interactive, chef-manned food stations at which customers can build their own meals can make eating exciting again. Think made-while-they-watch vegetarian burritos with a choice of beans, grains, marinated tofu, roasted sweet potatoes, sautéed kale and roasted vegetables. Or, instead of a traditional meat-carving station, offer a carving station showcasing a selection of hearty and colorful roasted and grilled vegetables, such as cauliflower, beets, carrots and eggplant, served with a choice of sauces, such as a cumin yogurt, mint and basil crème fraÎche or roasted tomato aioli.
4. SWAP OUT MEAT. With Mintel research showing only a third of consumers say they enjoy the taste of meat analogues — also known as meat substitutes — such as tofu, seitan and tempeh, there is a good opportunity to entice more people to try them. The simplest approach is to swap meat for meat analogues in familiar and favorite dishes, such as a veggie patty for a beef patty in a burger loaded with flavorful and healthful toppings, or vegetarian (soy-based) crumble for ground beef in chili or lasagna.
5. JUST ADD ANCIENT GRAINS. Buckwheat, spelt, quinoa and other grains — those that can trace their roots to ancient times and are packed full of nutrients — can easily be added to dishes customers already enjoy. Many of these grains have been overlooked until recently by those who eat a Western diet, according to the Whole Grains Council. Sprinkling a serving of these cooked grains onto salads or stirring them into soups can significantly increase nutrition value, improve taste and texture and leave customers feeling fuller and more satisfied.
6. PROMOTE PLANTS. Whatever approach operators take to adding more plant-based proteins to the menu, experts says promoting those offerings is key—not only to those who already familiar with them, but also to those who have yet to try them. Effective ways to convince consumers to try these plant-based dishes for the first time include offering Make the Flip promotions, which challenge customers to “make the flip” from basic beef burgers to premium plant-based patties, and running taste tests for two of the same dishes—with meat in one, a plant-based protein in another—and encouraging guests to taste and try to tell the difference.