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In between the atrium and the retail corridor sits Henry’s Café, the facility’s primary retail dining outlet. Henry’s serves as the model for retail dining that the system strives for across all its facilities. There is no deep fat frying, sodium levels are minimized, and most dishes emphasize selections utilizing plenty of fresh produce—including organics from local sources where possible—and lean meats, all served in appropriate portion sizes.

Patient dining at all Henry Ford hospitals uses a room service model. The menu, like the Henry’s Café menu, emphasizes healthy choices made with fresh ingredients—local and/or organic where possible or practical. The recipe database, consisting of some 3,000 separate formulations incorporating kosher, halal, gluten-free and other specialty selections, was designed with the help of local chef Matt Prentice.

Because dining at the various Henry Ford facilities had until recently been managed by various outside contractors, there was little integration among them. That has been changing since the last contract expired and was brought in-house in early 2012.

On the retail side, that connection is made through a set of criteria developed by the Culinary Wellness team that is designed to support the wellness mission of the larger institution. They include abandoning the deep-fat fryers, reducing sodium content in foods, eliminating trans fats and establishing a target goal of 650 calories for entrée item servings. The Culinary Wellness team also pledged itself to purchasing locally and working with local vendors.

Stealthy Healthy

In the first year, the new approach removed some six tons of fat from the food served over that time. It also saved money. Removing the shortening saved some $28,000 alone.

It is a major commitment that was cemented in place when Henry Ford signed on to the Partnership for a Healthier America Hospital Healthier Food Commitment. Henry Ford is one of only 17 hospital systems across the nation, and the only one in Michigan, to sign the pledge, which ties it to a rigorous third-party certification regimen covering areas such as fruit and vegetable procurement, menu content, food preparation techniques and merchandising/marketing.

The Partnership requires Henry Ford to meet an escalating series of goals. For example, it must increase its percentage of fruit and vegetable dollar purchases by 20% annually or achieve fruit/vegetable dollar purchases of 10% of total food dollar purchases by July 1, 2015.

Miller had no reluctance in making such a commitment, confident that he and his staff could make the new healthier menu approach just as, if not more, attractive to diners. “No one can convince me that, given a chance, you can’t offer healthful options to people that don’t have the flavor to make them just as desirable as what they replace.”

He cites one prominent example: “We had fried chicken every week and it was our top seller,” he recalls. “When we began removing the fryers one hospital at a time, we had to deal with removing that item from the menu. Yes, there was a short-term falloff. But in the end our substitute, a panko breaded chicken, was even more popular because we had created a new market among those who were looking for healthier alternatives and had previously avoided the cafeteria. We actually ended up exceeding previous sales levels by about 10 percent.”

For the most part, though, Miller prefers to be sneaky about serving more healthful menus. “I worked in restaurants for many years and learned the lesson early in my career that you don’t have to advertise the fact that something is ‘healthy.’”

As an example he cites a Henry Ford café that had been sampling a high-quality wrap sandwich with a very healthful profile without disclosing that aspect. “Sales were going through the roof until we let it slip to one person and sales then fell off as the word got around,” Miller says.

As a consequence, healthful choices are pushed through merchandising strategies that use product placement and merchandising approaches that encourage making “the right choice.”