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The Good Grains café has almond milk- and yogurt-based smoothies loaded with fresh produce, protein-forward salads, stacked sandwiches and good-for-you lunch bowls built on beds of citrusy herbed rice.

Hospital quick-service goes healthy

A new concept gives hospital staff and visitors made-fresh meals, snacks and catering options that are packed with goodness.

At UVA Health’s Orthopedic Center Ivy Road in Charlottesville, visitors searching for healthy breakfast, lunch and snack options are in luck. The Good Grains café has almond milk- and yogurt-based smoothies loaded with fresh produce, protein-forward salads, stacked sandwiches and good-for-you lunch bowls built on beds of citrusy herbed rice.

The concept is catching on. Chef Jeffrey Quasha, senior director of culinary innovation for Morrison Healthcare, says the group has opened three Good Grains cafés so far, at the UVA facility, Children’s National Hospital in Washington D.C., and Children’s Mercy Kansas City. In January, another will open at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Eleven more across the country are currently under construction; all are set to open by the end of 2023.

The new quick-service restaurant concept provides staff and visitors with prepared-to-order, health-forward options and, notably, cuts down on strong smells for settings where they could be disruptive for patients — those undergoing cancer treatments, for instance.

To keep cooking smells to a minimum, the hoodless concept uses high-performing equipment, such as convection panini presses and ventless rapid-cook ovens. They also prepare ingredients ahead of time, which saves on time and helps them stay scentless. “It’s ninety percent prep and ten percent production,” Quasha says.

The Good Grains concept is designed as a second point of service in almost any space — it can be customized based on square footage. The concept fits with a forward-thinking vision for dining options in health care settings, one that’s moving away from traditional cafeteria stations (salad bar, deli, grill, entrée) in favor of food hall-style offerings.

The concept gives on-site staff a high level of autonomy. Morrison develops a wide range of menu items, allowing sites to change their menu on a monthly or even weekly basis with little hassle.

Like their other concepts, Morrison provides operators with 30 menu items per category at any given time, all based on dining trends among nurses, hospital executives, patients and their families to provide these groups with choices that fit their dietary preferences. The menu maximizes the use of each ingredient and takes product shortages into account.

UVA’s menus from earlier this year offered breakfast sandwiches, parfaits, smoothies, sandwiches, salads, bowls and soups. They also opted to add a fully integrated coffee and tea system. Standout items included a breakfast brioche sandwich with turkey sausage and apple jam; a smoothie made with mango, pineapple, avocado, coconut, kale and matcha; a leveled-up turkey sandwich on ciabatta with bacon, pepper jack and chipotle mayo; and a spring mix salad with butter beans, asparagus and balsamic. They also offered classics, like a sausage, egg and cheese breakfast sandwich, a Reuben on rye and a chunky Cobb salad.

Morrison is also continually developing seasonal limited-time offerings. “Serving the right foods in the right months is really important to us,” Quasha notes. “I call that ‘menuing with intention.’ You know, not having a tomato caprese salad in January when those ingredients aren’t the ripest and the best. Instead, [the winter] is when you want to have a harvest chicken salad.”

Ninety percent of transactions are cashless and driven through multiple kiosk stations positioned in front of the café and through mobile ordering via Morrison’s Instaeat app, which works through hospital wireless networks. Remote ordering customers can set a pickup time and bypass the line when they arrive; orders are waiting in cubbies so diners can grab their meals and get back to work or to loved ones’ bedsides. The pickup option, Quasha says, has been helpful for all guests but revolutionary for nurses who have limited time for meals.

The restaurant-style servery is set up to quickly fill individual orders but it’s also effective for catering.

“We can do full-scale catering out of the Good Grains kitchen,” Quasha says, explaining that hospitals, from a catering perspective, are similar to convention centers or hotels with needs ranging from breakfast pastries for small departmental meetings to full trays of sandwiches and salads for larger executive team functions. The concept can also cater afternoon breakout sessions, delivering smoothies and grab-and-go bite-sized items. “It’s a small-accounts catering solution,” he explains. “It gives us a whole new level of catering.”

Quasha sees concepts like Good Grains as integral to the future of health care dining. Morrison has a full “retail collection” of such concepts, encompassing a wide range of options, from comfort foods to vegetable-forward menus. “It’s a different approach than the cafeteria. It totally changes the design and how to think about the healthy care campus of the future.”

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