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20230210_115448.jpg Loma Linda University
Troesh Medical Campus cafeteria customers can grab a meatless grilled chipotle "chicken" wrap with fresh vegetables.

Grab and go goes big in Loma Linda medical campus cafeteria

Quick-pick items account for the majority of the eatery’s business.

Grab and go meals and snacks aren't the only options available at Loma Linda University's Troesh Medical Campus cafeteria. But they're among the most popular, accounting for 65% of the cafeteria's total sales.

On any given day, hospital staff and visitors can expect to find between 12 and 15 grab and go entree-style selections in the cafeteria's double-sided coolers, made fresh each day and replenished regularly, along with a variety of snacks and beverages. Following the principles of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, all of the cafeteria's grab and go offerings are meatless.

Opening at 6:00 A.M., customers can pick up quick on-the-go breakfasts including chia seed puddings made with a rotating selection of fruits like berries or mango. Overnight oats with fruit, peanut butter, and bananas are another big hit, as are premade smoothies, yogurt and granola cups, and house-made fruit muffins, mini-loaves, and chocolate-filled croissants.

Sales start to shift towards lunch at around 10:30 AM. "Egg salad is a popular one. We'll also take vegetarian-style meats and make a 'chicken' salad sandwich, or use chickpeas to make a 'tuna' style wrap or sandwich," says Loma Linda University Health Executive Director of Nutrition Services Jean Sellars. Protein platters featuring items like homemade roasted garlic or pesto hummus, raw vegetables, whole wheat crackers or mini naan breads, cheese cubes, fresh fruit, and hard-boiled eggs are also big sellers. There's also a variety of gourmet salads, including a Southwest salad and one made with apples, dried cranberries, and feta.

But no matter the time of day, there's one offering that outsells all the rest: The whole wheat peanut butter and apple wrap with granola and agave nectar. "It's a wonderful, protein-packed wrap. That has to be our number-one seller," Sellars says.

Despite the emphasis on fresh vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and other wholesome ingredients, Loma Linda is conscious about making sure their grab-and-go offerings are cost effective for consumers. "A lot of times the perception is in order to eat healthy, it's expensive. We work to make sure we're doing it affordably," says Sellars.

Cafeteria staff use forecasting models to ensure they can meet customer demand. "Each day we look at what our sales were and what the patient census is. Patients don't come to the cafeteria but staff, families, and visitors do. So if the patient census goes up and we need to cap for more customers, our production level goes up too," Sellars explains.

While production needs can vary from day to day or week to week, restocking the coolers takes a more rhythmic approach. "We've gotten into a normal routine of where we're seeing our peaks," Sellars says. Staffers typically do their first restock of the day when the lunch rush starts mid-morning. They'll do another sweep through mid-afternoon to replenish for the next peak, which typically hits around 3:30. "We've gotten pretty good from a sales continuity standpoint to know when we need to replenish," says Sellars.

During the peaks themselves, dedicated runners monitor the coolers. and refill anything that's running low from the back of the coolers. "They're going from fridge to fridge just making sure to keep the items stocked during those busy sale times," says Sellars, who notes that the cafeteria was recently able to expand its hours (from 6:00 A.M. to 8:00 P.M.) now that pandemic-related staffing challenges have eased.

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