Healthy Hospital Food Initiative

The Physicians Committee

Healthy Hospital Food Initiative

A Survey and Analysis of Food Served at Hospitals by the
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and ADinfinitum

September 2005

Intro: Methods and Findings | Background
Survey Details and Results | Discussion | Recommendations
References | Tables | Questionnaire 


If the food served in hospitals is to be part of the solution to the obesity crisis and the chronic disease epidemic in the United States, some upgrading of the foods served and the nutrition information provided by hospitals to their staff and visitors is needed. Many of the hospitals surveyed had already instituted one or more of these recommendations. The Healthy Hospital Initiative recommends that all hospitals adopt most or all of these recommendations on a regular basis.

Recommendations for promoting health through hospital foodservice operations:

  • Offer a daily salad bar. To meet the needs of health-conscious customers, be sure to include vegetarian, low-fat, and dairy-free selections every day on the salad bar. Offer as many different fresh ready-to-eat fruits and vegetables, legumes, and grain-based salads as possible among the salad bar selections, rather than salads prepared with mayonnaise, cheeses, or other fatty items.
  • Remember: Fresh is best. Whenever possible, prepare fresh rather than canned versions of fruits and vegetables for entrée, side dish, salad bar, and à la carte items. If possible, work with local suppliers of organic produce to set up an order and delivery system that meets your needs.
  • Choose healthier versions of prepared food products. Look for products made with organic ingredients, with less saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, and sugar, and with no trans or hydrogenated fats.
  • Make it vegetarian. Offer tofu or seitan, a wheat-based meat alternative, instead of chicken, beef, or other meats in sandwiches, stews, stir-fries, and other hot entrées. Entice customers to try these healthier versions by making them daily specials when introducing them and by offering samples. Often it is very simple to offer healthier vegetarian selections alongside the typical meat-based dish. For example, fajitas can be made with seitan, grilled onions, peppers, and mushrooms; burritos with beans and rice instead of beef or chicken; grilled sandwiches with roasted peppers, eggplants, or a portobello mushroom instead of turkey or meatballs; and sliced baked tofu makes a great salad topping or cold sandwich filling. Veggie burgers, veggie dogs, and veggie chicken products stand up well next to their fattier meat counterparts.
  • Serve a healthy, hearty vegetarian soup every day. Start with common favorites such as vegetable, black bean, or split pea. As demand grows, add more varied or exotic soups. Try miso soup, spicy vegetable soup, and sweet potato and kale chowder.
  • Offer soymilk or rice milk and use them in recipes for creamy soups and with cereals so that your vegetarian, health-conscious, or lactose-intolerant customers will have healthy choices available each day.
  • Keep high-fat add-ons optional. Make cheese and other fatty or cholesterol-laden add-ons such as bacon, mayonnaise, croutons, eggs, and sour cream optional.
  • Include beans on salad bars and offer a hot, healthy bean dish daily. Kidney beans, chickpeas, three-bean salad, or spicy black-bean-and-corn salads make great salad bar offerings. In addition to soups, offer bean sides such as fat-free refried beans, black-eyed peas, vegetarian baked beans, and succotash prepared without lard, pork bits, or other added fats.
  • Experiment with menu items from world cuisines. Japan, China, Mexico, India, Thailand, and many other countries provide a wide variety of healthy entrée options that your customers will enjoy. Offer high quality, creatively prepared foods in the hospital setting. Great hospital food can also boost customer satisfaction with the hospital.
  • Ask your customers. Design a survey to find out what types of changes and food items your customers would prefer. Use this information to guide your changes. Evaluate the success of changes you implement by using customer surveys and purchase data.
  • Offer nutrition information and point out the healthiest entrées and side dishes at the point-of-purchase for your customers. List ingredients on menu cards for mixed dishes.

Hospitals should provide an optimal diet to Americans—one that not only meets basic nutrient requirements for most age and gender groups, but that also helps prevent the chronic diseases that are now commonplace. Demonstrating a higher nutrition standard will aid customers in making healthier choices. A menu that emphasizes plant-based foods over animal products and whole grains over refined grains has been repeatedly shown in scientific studies to provide the most disease-fighting protection of any dietary pattern. It is time to translate this scientific research into meals served in hospital cafeterias.