Bringing local food to health care food service

Often the struggle for health care food service is balancing a variety of dietary needs with tight budgets. This delicate balance can make it difficult to provide meals that also taste great. However, now some Ontario hospitals are making progress and increasing the amount of fresh, local food in their kitchens and even providing in-house, home cooked meals.

This has been achieved in part with help from the Greenbelt Fund, a grant program supported by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, and the dedication of staff and suppliers.

The following Greenbelt Fund grantees have shared their top three tips for including more local food.

St. Joseph’s Health Centre, Guelph

Providing care to a range of aging patients, residents and clients, St. Joseph’s Health Centre has been working to incorporate more local, home-cooked meals onto their menu. Leslie Carson, Manager of Food & Nutrition Services, has been a key part of those changes. Here are her tips:

•    Focus on quality vs. quantity. Offer portions that reflect the nutritional and energy needs of an aging population. This provides an opportunity to offer higher quality local foods that can be more expensive.
•    Eat food close to nature and create a flexible menu to take advantage of in season fruits and vegetables. A beautiful red-skinned potato from Ontario soil is not only cheaper, but much better tasting and nutritious compared to a processed alternative. From a therapeutic perspective, think of all the diets that are compatible with the plain potato vs. processed potato: gluten free, salt reduced, diabetic, low fat, multiple allergens, etc –you name it; the plain potato wins hands down.
•    Create a connection between the food you serve and your clients. Let your clients know they are eating local beef or potatoes (put it right on your menu) – they will have much more “buy in” to pay for or consume a meal they know they can feel good about supporting.

The Scarborough Hospital

The Scarborough Hospital recently launched ReFRESHing our Menu, an exciting new project to improve inpatient food at their General campus. This new menu will ultimately introduce over 20 new items to patients that are cooked from scratch using local ingredients. Anne Marie Males, Vice President of Patient Experience, offers the following tips for those health care facilities looking to incorporate more local food in their institution.

•    Identify champions at all levels of the organization. Without senior management buy-in and grassroots support from the front line, a local food project will stay in the “wouldn’t it be nice” category.
•    Find some quick wins. A few highly visible, positive projects (ideally some with press coverage) will help build support within the organization
•    Don’t be afraid to move slowly. Consolidate your wins and keep moving. Making changes to processes and systems in a bureaucratic environment can be frustratingly slow, but don’t lose hope.

St. Joesph’s Health System, Group Purchasing Organization (SJHS-GPO)

The SJHS-GPO works on behalf of 16 members, representing 28 health care facilities. SJHS-GPO recently worked with My Sustainable Canada to conduct an audit to determine the origin of food products purchased by health care facilities. The data collected was used to transform SJHS-GPO’s RFPs to include a request for food origin information. Candice Bester, Manager, Nutrition Group of the SJHS-GPO, has identified the following tips to bring more local food into your facility:

•    Work with your GPO. Insist on attaining the origin of your contracted food products.
•    Increase your awareness of suppliers. Get to know the local food suppliers in your region and invite them to be part of the process of change at your facility.
•    Share successful product information. The only way to change the amount of local food served at institutions is to share the successes and progress made within your organization with other colleagues in the health care sector.

Marek Hospitality Inc., is working with their clients to meet the growing demand for local food in hospitals and health care facilities. Sandra Matheson, President of Marek Hospitality, offers these suggestions to organizations looking to work with suppliers to increase access to local food.

•    Get to know your local producers. Invite a local produce supplier to set up display with local food samples at your facility. Get to know what is available seasonally and encourage staff to come up with new menu options incorporating local food.
•    Commit to buying local. Inform your supplier that you want to commit to buying local and ask them to indicate on order forms which products are local. A good produce supplier will support you to make these changes happen.
•    Promote. Once you have more local food on your menu, promote it by creating point of sale items, identify who the local farmers are, develop new recipes highlighting the flavour of fresh fruits and vegetables and create internal newsletters touting the efforts of staff and suppliers.