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Posted on Thu, May 5, 2011 : 2:47 p.m.

Healthier hospital food? New Michigan effort mirrors existing programs at St. Joe's, U-M

By Juliana Keeping

A new anti-obesity effort urges hospitals to put the health back into hospital food, pushing for locally grown foods and more nutritional choices for patients, staff and especially young visitors, the Michigan Health & Hospital Association announced today.

In Washtenaw County, St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan Health System already are at the forefront of the new effort aimed at combating the obesity epidemic in Michigan starting at hospitals, said Brian Peters, executive vice president of the MHA.

Michigan is the 10th most obese state in the country, with nearly a third of adults and more than one in 10 children are obese, according to the MHA.

The advocacy group's new "Healthy Food Hospitals" initiative is a voluntary, four-star program aimed at addressing healthy eating and weight management.

To earn the stars, hospitals have to make a commitment to buy 20 percent Michigan-grown and -produced food products by 2020.

Participants should also provide nutritional content labels to cafeteria and menu items and improve nutritional value of patient menus for food and beverages by 2013.


Dan Bair, farm manager for St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, looks over tomato plants in the hospital's hoop house, just east of the hospital off Hewitt last summer. The vegetables grown in the hoop house are sold in the hospital's farm market.

File photo |

The program is voluntary for MHA’s 140 member hospitals across the state, which employ 200,000 Michigan residents, Peters said. St. Joe’s and UMHS are among 50 hospitals that have already signed up. Along with dieticians and others from both St. Joe’s and UMHS, Ann Arbor-based Ecology Center helped to construct the new campaign.

Rob Casalou, the CEO of St. Joseph Mercy Health System’s Ann Arbor, Saline and Howell hospitals, is excited about the effort.

“We’re attacking the obesity issue by starting with ourselves first,” Casalo said. “What can we do with our own people that visit our campus? What can we provide? Good food. We’ve got to start at home, and then spread the word.”

St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor is one of the few hospital campuses in the country that employs a farmer and operates its own working farm, including hoop houses that grow year round and help supply hospital campus farmer’s markets.

Peters said MHA’s initiative could nudge more hospitals to create farms like St. Joe’s.

The hospital also has been revamping menus for several years.

All French fries are baked and unsalted. The Philly cheese steak sandwich - and numerous other items - meet American Heart Association guidelines. Yogurts options include low-sugar and low fat.

You won’t find sugary juices anywhere on the campus, and the milk is low fat and hormone free. Patient menus include nutritional information. And there are no deep fryers, anywhere.

Every week day at UMHS, 12,000 customers purchase food and beverages from University Hospital Cafeteria and other retail outlets like the Atrium Café at the U-M Cardiovascular Center. Additionally, hospital patients consume 1,500 meals per day.

UMHS has made healthy strides in their menu options, especially in the last five years, with home-grown programs like MHealthy, which created nutritional guidelines for healthy food options.

UMHS has started to nutritionally label foods within its retail food operations, like the cafeteria, although there is still work to be done. One of the criteria is for hospitals to have a labeling program in place for cafeteria offerings.

The UMHS labeling program was a model for the MHA’s new healthy foods guidelines, said Craig Luck, the administrative manager of contracted food services, like the hospital cafeteria.

The patient menu at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital includes a majority of healthy options. Staff who answer the phone are coached to lead parents and patients to healthy choices.

The new program will push the heath system to do even more.

While the vast majority of juices are natural, there is one juice patients love that contains added sugar, said Joyce Kerestes, the director of patient food and nutrition services at UMHS. To achieve the transition to healthy beverages, one of the four-star criteria under the MHA’s Health Foods Hospitals campaign, that juice would have to go.

It’s a delicate balance, Kerestes and Luck said.

UMHS wants to educate visitors and patients about healthy foods, “But we don’t want to be the food police,” Luck said.

If a sick kid wants ice cream, no one is going to try to talk the child out of it, he added.

The Ecology Center in Ann Arbor has been working behind the scenes with the MHA to make it easier for health systems to locate locally grown foods. Major suppliers like Sysco often source, but don’t label, local foods, especially produce, said Hillary Bisnett, healthy food and health care coordinator.

The Ecology Center has helped suppliers make the change, starting with a pilot program that helped suppliers label Michigan apples last year, which hospitals then purchased.

The Ecology Center hopes the MHA’s initiative will help to change practices in the the supply chain, but help the economy by leveraging the purchasing power of hospitals to bump the need for food businesses, like more local food processing plants.

Often food is produced here, but processed in nearby states like Indiana or Ohio, she said.

The MHA has had success with previous campaigns. It's been working to get unhealthy trans fats out of all hospital foods for almost two years, Peters said.

And following an anti-smoking campaign, almost all hospitals in the state have smoke-free campuses, a more comprehensive ban than required by the Michigan law work place smoking ban that went into effect in 2010.

Juliana Keeping covers general assignment and health and the environment for Reach her at or 734-623-2528. Follow Juliana Keeping on Twitter



Tue, May 10, 2011 : 9:02 p.m.

By it's very nature has always been and will always be BAD.


Sat, May 7, 2011 : 5:24 p.m.

Most of the readers are concerned about the quality of meal, the palatibility of the meal, and its cost. Cost is an important factor as people face the burden of very expensive hospital bills and loss of income that is associated with sickness and hospital stay. I had served in Indian Army and in the Land Forces of the Sultanate of Oman. In military hospitals and clinics, food and medical comforts like tea, snacks, and water are mostly provided free of cost and Officers may have to pay a small amount towards hospital diet. As a Medical Officer of a Hospital Ward, my duties and responsibilities always included checking the quality of food, the taste, the temperature, the quantity, and the manner in which it is served. For each patient, according to the medical condition, a diet is prescribed and served and changes are made as the medical condition changes. The Medical Officer very often is present in the ward during the distribution of food and also checks with patients about the quality of food and accepts complaints about food. The Duty Medical Officer also checks the Kitchen, the preparation rooms, the Dining halls, and all the food-handlers during the routine hygiene and sanitation inspections. I had tasted the food served to my patients on every day that I had worked and in addition while performing the Duty of Orderly Medical Officer of the day, all the meals would be served from the Hospital kitchen. We took exceptional care about the quality and nutritive value of food while we served it to patients frre of cost. Very often I had instructed my Staff to serve free meals to visitors of my patients who are critically ill or dangerously ill. I have not seen the Physician involvement in the delivery of Nutrition to the Hospital patients at U of M or St. Joe Hospitals. The Physician involvement, and particiaption is NIL. It is a shame to note that the Doctors have no direct concern in an important area of patient care.

Kate Higgins

Sat, May 7, 2011 : 1:28 p.m.

The best hospital food ever is at Henry Ford Hospital in West Bloomfield: you have an actual chef there who cooks your order. There are organic selections and you can order fruit smoothies. Everyone raves about the food which is very rare for a hospital! St. Joe's and UM hospitals could take a lesson.

Kate Higgins

Sat, May 7, 2011 : 12:30 a.m.

I am currently at St. Joe's hospital as a patient and I regret to say that the food is barely palatable and not what I would consider to be fresh or healthy. My first night's meal was macaroni and cheese (a very high fat version) and what appeared to be canned green beans. Hardly fresh. Breakfast consisted of a rubbery, tasteless "omelet" with cheese that tasted like it was microwaved out of a box, with sausage of indeterminate meat. All served barely warm. Fortunately, there was a box of Raisin Bran with it so I didn't starve. I could go on, but all in all, it was hospital food at it's worst. Oh, in the two days I've been here I did have the choice of one fresh item: a tangerine. It was delicious.


Fri, May 6, 2011 : 9:08 p.m.

Too bad they got rid of Wendy's. You could feed your family a healthy meal for only a few bucks. Now you pay twice as much for food half as good. Being hypocrites, the powers that be replaced it with Einstein's and their suspect claim to health food. Not that anyone but physicians can afford it regularly anyway.


Fri, May 6, 2011 : 6:27 p.m.

I wonder if people want there food eaten at a hospital are used to inexpensive fast food taste or to mimic their own home-cooked meal. The hospital food is not fine dining food, but an attempt to make food palatable for a diversity of people., while they visit their sick ones. It is not meant to be logged into the gourmet food magazine (although they would like to). They are not there yet, but have made an attempt, an attempt to offer substance & nutrition for people who are visiting their hospital. They offer food for people who rely on processed food or fast food or if you eat vegan only, or if you require low-sodium foods. Either way there are these offerings. Suggestions, although that is the last thing is on a person's mind when they visit the ER or hospital is to bring their own food or their own seasonings, so perhaps the hospital can be identical to fine dining restaurant or a their own home cooked meal.

judy heath

Fri, May 6, 2011 : 5:16 p.m.

I cannot believe that SJMHS and U of M would want to brag about their food/cafeterias! I have recenty had famiy members as patients at SJMHS and the patient's food was AWFUL.. During these times, I also found it necessary to frequent the cafeteria (as the line at Java Joe's was long -- it is the only place to get decent food there) and the food is so bad that I dreaded going there. And NO gluten free choices and the food is very expensive.. Many of the hospital staff related that they never go to the cafeteria now -- not good PR for SJMHS food/cafeteria. They would do well to look at some of the cafeterias at Henry Ford where I look forward to eating.

Christy Summerfield

Fri, May 6, 2011 : 4:04 p.m.

It's about time. When my son was born at St. Joe's, there were no vegetarian options. And I simply could not make the staff understand that I would just accept cereal three times a day. So frustrating! Thankfully, my husband brought me food. About 10 years ago I was at U Hosp. for a day-long outpatient procedure. They wanted me to eat something for lunch and I explained I was vegetarian. What I got to eat was two pieces of bread with lettuce in between. Not long after that, I was at U Hosp. for two separate periods for two surgeries with a week at home between the two. Each hospital stay was more than a week long. These were grueling, hard, painful surgeries involving physical therapy after each and of course they wanted me to eat. I'm not overweight and I lost weight I didn't need to lose during that period due to the lack of appetizing, palatable food. I didn't have much of an appetite but the food did nothing to stimulate my appetite. I have to say that the food and the inability to sleep due to lights and noise, will make me think awfully long and hard if I ever face a hospital stay again. It just shouldn't be that way. I applaud the efforts of both hospitals to introduce healthy, tasty food. Locally-grown is an added bonus.


Fri, May 6, 2011 : 3:15 p.m.

The issue is that of preventing obesity. We need to examine the concepts that we use to define what may be called 'healthy eating'. There are two terms; health, and eating. Unless we have clear understanding of the terms that we use, the policy that we develop would not help us to reach the goal and in this case, the problem of preventing obesity. I define health as a state of physical, mental, social, moral, and spiritual well-being of man in his community, and in his environment and not as mere absence of disease. The man who consumes food is a social, moral, and spiritual being. The physical being is understood and is described by Medical Sciences such as human anatomy, and human physiology. Man eats food which provides him the energy to sustain his metabolism, his physical, and mental activities. Eating represents acquisition of energy by an energy dependent organism. The Whole Organism is conscious of its energy dependence and the trillions of cells that constitute this Whole Organism are also conscious and aware of their energy dependence. The demand for energy at the cellular level is known and described as the 'NUTRITION' function. The function of nutrition is to acquire molecules and substances from the environment, to oxidize them and convert them into new chemical molecules that the body uses for its various activities. Nutrition is a function that is characterized by Consciousness. If an individual is unconscious, he cannot feed himself and he may not have cortical awareness of his hunger and thirst. While we exist as energy dependent organisms, we need to understand that we exist not because of our physical or mental effort but because of a connection between the energy-seeker, and the energy-provider. We cannot avoid or ignore the concept of energy-provider. We need to recognize the relevance of God as the energy-provider and in that context the claim made by Jesus that He is the Bread of Life is relevant.


Fri, May 6, 2011 : 2:32 p.m.

I had a family member at St Joe's and was there for some weeks around the clock. It was so difficult that they had no gluten-free choices, including in the little store they have. It's good to hear that UM does have gluten-free. It's great that St. Joe's is going healthier with the veggies, but until they have GF food, they really aren't healthy for a significant number of people. I would have been happy with some choices of packaged food labled "gluten-free." I agree that Aramark or any of the catering companies do not do a good job. Why not run the kitchen themselves?


Fri, May 6, 2011 : 1:54 p.m.

I work at the UofM and I disagree with some of the comments, I enjoyed a very good meal which included bean soup and for fun, I purchased the bread cheese sticks. The soup was especially delicious and the cheese sticks comparable to what I have eaten at other inexpensive fast food (Little Cesars, Happy's Pizza) eateries. I am used to eating fine dining and inexpensive dining as well. I give UofM credit, they have made progress in designing/preparing food for various eating style; which includes fried foods, but they give access to fresh fruits & salads, low sodium, vegan, gluten-free, and food offerings for ethnic groups such as sushi. I would rather eat at the UofM with the choices they offer than at McDonald's/Burger King.


Sat, May 7, 2011 : 12:52 a.m.

i know that wasn't the healthiest of choices, but i did try other things they had and i ended up just eating cereal until i got home


Sat, May 7, 2011 : 12:48 a.m.

the food that is sold in the cafeteria is good, but the food they serve to the patients is horrible...after i had my baby i was excited to try the mouth-watering pizza i had seen in the cafeteria the week before, but when i ordered pizza for my lunch i got this bite-size, partially microwave-heated, frozen was cheap of them


Fri, May 6, 2011 : 5:07 a.m.

Aramark has a monopoly at UM. Their food is crap for the most part. Einsteins' is a sop for the pretentious Doctors and administrators. It is there for the bourgeois to celebrate their status as the upper crust of American society. Hence, the $6 sandwich. What UM should have done was have a food bazaar that offers options from several different companies. Alas, like the money whores they are, they went for the quick and easy buck with Aramark.


Thu, May 5, 2011 : 11:25 p.m.

Yowza! This topic is apparently a hot potato (one not filled with sour cream & chives). Patients gotta eat to get better and stay healthy. Whats the issue here with the present menu? Food choices, preparation, freshness?

Atticus F.

Thu, May 5, 2011 : 8:55 p.m.

As if hospital food wasn't bad enough. I can only imagine how bad it will be when we make it healthy.


Thu, May 5, 2011 : 8:11 p.m.

That's really a great idea, now we'll have healthy food that nobody eats at U-M hospital. As a recent patient I must confess that the staff is world class but the food is almost inedible.


Thu, May 5, 2011 : 8:04 p.m.

The food served at the UofM hospital is a culinary disaster!


Thu, May 5, 2011 : 6:51 p.m.

I'm all for making hospital food more long as it is made palatable, which is certainly not the case at the UofM!