Healthy food, happy patients

Patients to be treated to more choices on a reFRESHed menu at The Scarborough Hospital

Susan Bull has an antidote to an unappetizing problem at The Scarborough Hospital (TSH).

“We’re going to return to in-house scratch food production,” she said. “What we are going to buy are potatoes (for example) that we now have to peel … not frozen, or soaked in a (potentially unhealthy) metabisulphite product.”

Last summer, The Scarborough Hospital announced it would be making some changes to better satisfy its patients. Staff introduced the ReFRESHing our Menu project. Bull, the nutrition and food services manager at TSH, oversees the project.

“We always want to improve the item that is least liked by our patients,” she said.

Didem Varol at Toronto Public Health says patients don’t like hospital food.

“We know in general that hospital food doesn’t have a good reputation,” the registered dietitian said.

When patients are in recovery, she said, it is important to have healthy food on the hospital menu.

Bull explained that in recent years hospitals introduced precut and frozen foods to shorten preparation times, but with the ReFRESHing our Menu initiative, TSH kitchen staff will revert to fresh produce.

“There’s not a big nutritional difference between frozen and fresh produce,” Varol said. “In taste there might be.”

But, Varol said, when hospital kitchens use fresh produce, they have more control over what goes into the food.

TSH hired Toronto-based chef and local-food advocate Joshna Maharaj as a consultant for the menu development. She is working with the hospital’s kitchen staff to create more than 20 new recipes for the revamped patient menu.

The Ontario government has endorsed efforts to provide fresh foods in the hospital through the Greenbelt Fund, a program to increase the procurement of Ontario-grown food.

“The Fund has given out $4.3-million worth of grants to help put local food sourcing in a variety of different institutions,” said Katie Sandwell, who speaks for the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation.

TSH received funding and has partnered with a number of suppliers in the region, from workers in the field to suppliers of the machinery. 100km Foods Inc., which also received Greenbelt funding, acts as a broker between farmers and chefs. Grace Mandarano, co-owner of 100km Foods, said it has partnered with TSH to determine what products would be best to incorporate into the menus.

“We have been working with Joshna Maharaj,” she said, “helping to facilitate the distribution of locally grown and sourced foods into the hospital.”

Another company helping to get the menu ready is Local Food Plus (LFP) Ltd. The not-for- profit company certifies that local farms meet the standards for production, labour practices and energy usage on the farm.

The company’s outreach and education officer, Joel Aitken, says that TSH, “pledged that 10 per cent of all the food that go in patient meals will be sourced as LFP certified from local sustainable farms.”

To date, hospital staff have created a number of new menu items and identified fresh food suppliers identified.

“Now we just need to wait until the rest of the project catches up,” Bull said. The hospital currently has a non-selective menu for its patients.

The proposed system allows patients to make meal choices from a diet-specific menu, offered at bedside. This will then be logged with the kitchen staff through a portable device.

“Once they do that, we will generate a meal chit,” Bull explained. “Kind of like what waitresses do in restaurants.”

This kind of vision means the project requires a major investment in in-house training and an equipment upgrade, including the installation of the machinery and technology needed.

“We have not changed our style of service to include the bedside ordering,” Bull said. “What we can’t do, is change anything without changing everything.”

TSH will not implement the full ReFRESHing our Menu project until the fall of this year, Bull said.