So why are there such big differences in attitude, concern and, most importantly, in results? Clearly, it is a matter of approach and institutional coordination.

A quick, knee jerk response to an administrative directive to implement a healthy foods or a ban-the beverage program will get you as far as does telling your kids to “stop that” – nowhere!  The many successful programs we've observed were instead the result of thoughtful plans and close coordination with other institutional initiatives. 

These included health maintenance and improvement programs, reductions in employee insurance contributions and healthcare system initiatives that were system-wide and, sometimes, community-wide.  In the most successful cases, the institution becomes a cheerleader for community commitment, not just a facilitator of a quick, glitzy public relations promotions (Think PR efforts surrounding onsite vegetable and herb gardens!).

On the part of the food service director there was a common thread: a multi-part plan that phased in pre-planned elements over time.  Typically, it included a strategic plan with an operational or short-term initial effort, a mid-term or tactical phase; and then a long-term goal that defined where the healthy foods program would be in 18 to 24 months. These were tightly coordinated with the healthcare system’s other programs.

In the most successful cases, healthy foods were added but comfort foods were not immediately withdrawn. Here are some of the other features typical of these successful programs:

  • Healthy foods were placed in the first position on the entrée line (and sometimes discounted) or made a key component of healthy combo meals that were priced attractively.  
  • Many programs implemented loyalty programs with meal cards (typically,10 purchases qualified for a free meal or item).  
  • The café's made to order “action-station” chef special was usually a "healthy" offering. 
  • High fat or high-calorie foods often got a slight price hike. 
  • Cash register tape receipts were imprinted with caloric and fat values. 
  • and in some of the latest initiatives, the use of smartphone apps to track key data (“you can’t manage what you don’t measure” works for weight control, too.)

Another key was flexibility and, in some cases, a sense of compassion.  A hospital is an environment that almost always entails high stress and high emotion for staff, patients and family members.  Recent research suggests that times of high stress and struggle “trigger" a desire to seek higher-calorie foods (an ancient survival instinct). Comfort foods often may be less than optimally healthy, but they do provide comfort and at times that is exactly what someone needs.  Flexibility recognizes that one size does not fit all, and not all of the time.  

The food service industry provides a landscape that can feature unlimited variety, flexibility and creativity. As such, it also offers an opportunity to teach that a wide range of food concepts can be attractive, satisfying and—Gee!—even good for you.

As they say, Rome was not built in a day and our life style habits will not change in a week, month or a year.  It may take a generation or a seminal event, but, in the interim, we as food and nutrition professionals need to listen to our customers, watch and subtly learn to change their behaviors, and use our intellects to keep food interesting, enjoyable and nourishing.

 

The Hysen Group is an international consulting firm headquartered in
Northville, MI. It provides concept development and design, engineering
and management services to a variety of foodservice segments.