It's no secret that hospital food is often bland and unappetizing, but research has shown delicious and nutritious food is beneficial to health, and at Northwell Health, a Michelin-starred chef is leading a culinary revolution, Richard Schiffman reports for the New York Times.
Hospital food is due for a makeover
In September, Northwell Health hired Chef Bruno Tison to improve the taste and nutritional quality of its food.
According to Tison, "Many hospital chefs don't have any culinary experience." And those who have culinary experience are restricted by old kitchen appliances, limited food budgets, hospital dietary restrictions, and low expectations.
Thomas Mencaccini, a cook at Long Island Jewish Hospital in Valley Stream who is working with Tison, said traditionally, hospital kitchens have focused less on actual cooking, and more on heating pre-made mixes, deep drying frozen chicken wings, and turning canned food into hastily prepared meals that must meet a range of dietary needs.
The result, is often bland and even unhealthy food. David Eisenberg of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, explained that the poor nutritional quality of hospital food raises it's own health care issue as research has shown that a poor diet is responsible for almost half of deaths from heart disease, stroke, and Type 2 diabetes, meaning nutrition can affect patient outcomes and recovery.
Healthier meals make for happier patients at Northwell hospitals
The connection between health and nutritional food prompted Northwell officials to bring in Tison and improve hospital food service at its 23 New York-based hospitals.
Tison said changing the food culture in hospitals is an uphill battle. "I came here four months ago and they looked at me like I was the devil—the corporate chef is coming, what is he going to do to us."
To reinvigorate Northwell's kitchens and inspire a bit of the competitive drive that fuels restaurant chefs, Tison earlier this year held a hospital cook-off. Chefs from 16 Northwell Health facilities competed to make a four-course nutritious, appealing hospital meal that met strict dietary criteria—in 45 minutes of less.
Mencaccini said, "It's bringing me back to that rush of cooking in a restaurant, getting things ready in time, hitting the ground running." Under Tison's leadership, Mencaccini said Long Island Jewish has ditched the fryer and swapped in fresh, often organic, ingredients.
Stephen Bello, executive director of LIJ Valley Stream, said teaching hospital chefs to cook with fresher ingredients benefits both the patients and the hospital. According to Schiffman, food waste at the health system has declined since Tison joined the team and fewer patients are sending back meals.
LIJ Valley Stream took the initiative a step further, and launched the health system's first "food pharmacy," Bello said. The hospital will provide a bag of groceries to patients being discharged whose physicians have prescribed certain dietary requirements. The hospital also provides weekly free food to low-income patients who are considered "food insecure" to help them control chronic diseases (Schiffman, New York Times, 9/20).
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