Hackensack University Medical Center and Overlook Medical Center have become the first hospitals in New Jersey to implement the Guiding Stars nutrition guidance program to help visitors and staff make healthier choices when dining in their cafeterias and other public food service areas. An at-a-glance rating system that helps diners quickly and easily identify nutritious choices to encourage healthy eating habits, Guiding Stars uses zero to three stars to gauge the nutritional value of every available item in the facility, including hot and cold prepared foods, salad bar, grab-and-go items and beverages.
Each item is then labeled with a corresponding tag, sticker or other signage: one Guiding Star is good, two Guiding Stars is better and three Guiding Stars is best. Foods that receive no stars do not meet the program's rigorous criteria. All items are evaluated using a patented algorithm based on the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans and other national evidence-based nutrition policies.
"We are very pleased to introduce the Guiding Stars program into these two innovative leaders in the health care community," says John Eldredge, director of brand and business development for Guiding Stars. "Being in the business of wellness, it makes perfect sense for these facilities to encourage healthier eating by making it simple for employees and visitors to make nutritious food choices."
Hackensack and Overlook are part of a growing number of hospitals, public schools, colleges and other food service facilities, as well as more than 1,700 grocery stores, to implement the Guiding Stars system that helps diners and shoppers cut through the clutter of the Nutrition Facts panel and ingredients list by clearly and simply highlighting good nutritional choices.
"Encouraging a healthy lifestyle is a core part of our mission, and the Guiding Stars system makes it easy for guests and employees to take an active role in improving and maintaining their overall health and quality of life," says Irma Newdorf, RD, MPh, assistant director of nutrition and food management at HackensackUMC.
Overlook, part of Atlantic Health System, is taking the program a step further, coupling Guiding Stars with its Summit Fit Program that awards fit points to employees for making healthy choices. Employees earn points for every Guiding Stars-rated item they buy, along with other healthy choices like drinking water rather than sugary beverages. Employees can then redeem accumulated points for gift certificates good toward purchases in the hospital cafe.
"In addition to our focus on top-notch patient care, we recognize the opportunity we have as a community leader to encourage good health and well-being among everyone in the communities we serve," says Todd Kaminksy, retail coordinator for food service at Overlook. "By improving the nutritional profile of our offerings and demonstrating just how easy it is to make nutritious choices here at our facility, our goal is to encourage staff and visitors to make the same good choices once they leave our campus."
In addition to providing nutritional guidance for cafeteria guests, the Guiding Stars program can also be expanded to include patient menus in hospital settings.