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Health providers and visitors at Hackensack Meridian’s Cool Food Pledge Day tried protein-rich, plant-based salads topped with ancient grain spelt bites.

Cool Food Pledge Day kicks off plant-based menu upgrades at Hackensack Meridian Health

Event celebrates Hackensack Meridian Health’s commitment to curb climate change and encourage healthy eating with the Cool Food Pledge, rolling out awesome plant-based menu items including Impossible Burgers, Vietnamese grain salads and blended burger bites.

The Cool Food Pledge—a formal commitment to serving planet-friendly, plant-based food—kicked off this week at Hackensack Meridian Health (HMH) Palisades Medical Center, where the pledge’s mission aligns with what the Sodexo foodservice team has been doing already, just amped up.

“When you look at where healthcare is going, I think this initiative is great,” says Kyle Tafuri, HMH sustainability director. “It’s one tool that’s part of a broader push for getting as many people as possible engaged with healthier foods.”

HMH is in a great position to reach lots of people and potentially change their habits. The New Jersey healthcare system is made up of 18 hospitals and over 34,000 team members, all of whom can participate in the Cool Food Pledge in the way that best suits their setting. “We kind of leave it up to them as to how they want to help us get there,” Tafuri says. The kickoff day was a way to unify the message and spark culinary ideas.


Executive Chef Gil Matamoros at Hackensack Meridian Health Palisades Medical Center shows off customizable grain bowls, Vietnamese amaranth spelt bites and blended beef-and-mushroom bites on Cool Food Pledge Day.

In the past, HMH has taken some big steps toward both wellness and sustainability: cutting out sugar-sweetened beverages as much as possible, an increase in purchasing antibiotic-free meat and less meat and reducing food waste with help from LeanPath.

All great initiatives, but not effective if the food doesn’t look and taste great.

“We don’t want people to say, ‘This food tastes terrible,’ so that’s why Sodexo is a great partner; they’ve made the food enticing,” Tafuri says.

At the kickoff event, one eye-catching, planet-friendly dish that was served was a Vietnamese ancient grain bowl with many layers, something Tafuri says “can affect behavioral change because it looks good, it’s flavorful and it’s bright.”


The Southern California Impossible Burger at Palisades Medical Center gets its Cali flavor from avocado, fresh pickled onions and lemon garlic aioli.

The grain bowls can be built to order, with guests choosing a variety of roasted veggies to go with the hearty grains. Impossible Burgers are part of the Cool Food Pledge, too, served at the event as Southern California burgers with cheese, avocado, pickled onions and bacon. Another cool menu item introduced was “The Natural,” a “burger bite” blend of beef and mushrooms that can add some protein to the grain bowls.

Similar events will be held in cafes of additional HMH locations in New Jersey, and the Cool Food Pledge will be a continuing learning experience, Tafuri says. “This initiative aligns with our population health strategies to prevent disease and create healthier communities.”

Contact Tara at [email protected].

Follow her on Twitter @Tara_Fitzie.

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