Rick Bowmer  /  AP
Fresh vegetables are seen at the farmers market across the street from the Good Shepherd Medical Center on Friday, Sept. 15 in Portland, Ore.
updated 9/25/2006 10:06:54 AM ET 2006-09-25T14:06:54

Patients at Good Shepherd Medical Center like the hospital food so much, some come back to eat after their stay is over.

The food is cooked from scratch. The menu features offerings like wild salmon and local organic produce. Even the pie has a hint of health, packed with antioxidant-rich dried cherries.

"Oh man it was good," said Angela Mallory, a 21-year-old who stayed at the hospital in rural Hermiston, Ore. for five days recently for the birth of her son.

She was reticent about trying the naturally lean bison, but wound up enjoying it. She also dined on pasta primavera with fresh vegetables. She now makes a point of trying to meet her mom, who works at the hospital, for lunch.

Good Shepherd is one of many hospitals across the nation offering food that's healthier for patients, workers and the environment.

Some hospitals have created onsite farmers markets. Others have hired chefs and former restaurant employees to run their kitchens.

Rick Bowmer  /  AP
People shop at the farmers market across the street from the Good Shepherd Medical Center. Good Shepherd is one of many hospitals across the nation offering food that's healthier for patients, workers and the environment.
"What we are trying to do is provide not just our patients, but everybody that eats here, with foods that are health promoting," said Nancy Gummer, director of nutrition services at Good Shepherd.

The hospital no longer needs to modify each meal for a patient's sodium or fat restrictions. Instead it serves healthy food to everyone. In just one year, Gummer has been able to rid the hospital of all trans fats and major additives.

Our bodies are "bombarded with this stuff all the time," Gummer said. "All our ingredients are actually food."

Hospitals, which have typically served institutional food because of labor or cost demands, are changing their approach.

"The purer and cleaner the food is, the better the ability of that food to improve the health of people," said Mark Peterson, manager of food, nutrition and environmental services for St. Charles Medical Centers in the central Oregon cities of Bend and Redmond. "That is a key recognition hospitals are making."

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Patients at Peterson's hospitals can get fresh fruit smoothies or visit the onsite farmers market.

Environmentally friendly
Medical centers from California to North Carolina are hosting farmers markets where patients and staff can grab fresh fruits and vegetables to snack on, and some are even buying produce for the kitchen there. The trend is more popular in the West, where produce is abundant.

The California-based health system Kaiser Permanente launched a farmers market at its Oakland hospital in 2003. The system now has markets at 31 medical sites.

"Having it there for the benefit of the patients, our staff and the neighborhood was a natural match with our mission of good health and community support," said Dr. Preston Manning, who is responsible for the initial Kaiser market.

Hospitals have also begun using food practices that are friendlier to the environment.

Catholic Healthcare West grows its own produce onsite at its Santa Cruz, Calif., hospital. Fletcher Allen Health Care in Vermont and others compost food waste on site. A few have switched to fully biodegradable sugarcane-based containers instead of Styrofoam. Room service-style food is becoming prevalent for patients, which improves patient satisfaction and reduces waste.

Coffee is organic fair trade, meat is antibiotic-free and milk is free of added hormones at a number of facilities.

Some hospitals are even cracking down on the fattening treats at coffee carts and vending machines.

"It is important that we recognize the connection between a healthy earth and healthy human beings," said Sr. Mary Ellen Leciejewski, ecology program coordinator for Catholic Healthcare West in Santa Cruz. "If we don't have a healthy planet, we won't have healthy human beings."

The efforts are earning good feedback from staff and patients, such as those who schedule their appointments around farmers markets.

"You can't beat the taste," said Julie Yochim, 50, a nurse at Kaiser Permanente in Portland as she visited a farmers market across the street that the medical center worked with the community to develop.

"It is healthy, but you forget what a carrot is until you try one of those," she said, pointing to a nearby booth.

Retail sales at Oregon Health and Science University's hospital have more than doubled in the past three or four years since making a number of major changes, including adding vegan options, said Steven Hiatt, director of food and nutrition services.

This is good news for hospital budgets, because the majority of the food used is for visitors or workers, rather than patients.

It's also good news for dietitians and nutritionists, who say staff support is crucial to encourage changes for patients.

"We needed to walk the talk," said Sandra Kelly, the food and nutrition manager for Kaiser's Northwest region.

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