St. Joseph Ann Arbor opens new, health-conscious cafeteria Wednesday
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Hospital food. The very phrase conjures up images of bland fare, bathing in fat and salt while basking in the unnatural glow of a heat lamp.
With its brand new cafeteria, St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor wants to turn that image on its face.
The new cafeteria, a $1 million space renovated over three months called St. Joe’s Market Cafe, opens today.
All summer, workers, patients and visitors have gone without a cafeteria. They've been bringing lunches, eating at Joe's Java — a cafe at the hospital — or going out to eat while the renovation was completed.
Today they'll be greeted by a sushi bar plus five fresh-to-order stations, a new executive chef lured from Google’s cafeteria and a color-coded system that allows workers to pick the healthiest options based on their diet objectives.
“It’s a high stress environment,” said Rob Casalou, the president and CEO of St. Joseph Mercy's Ann Arbor, Livingston and Saline hospitals. “We wanted to create real tasty food that is also healthier.”
Ryan Kendall, the new executive chef who previously worked for Google’s cafeteria in Ann Arbor, said he uses different spices and preparation techniques to amp up flavor while keeping fat and sodium lower.
The results of his work were on display Tuesday for a preview of the food for hospital doctors.
Station No. 1, for example, features entrees; the cost of a plate is $4.50. Doctors sampled either pork loin, salmon or rotisserie chicken with sides of rice pilaf and corn. Nutritional information is clearly listed on a sandwich board in front of the station.
The old cafeteria served about 1 million meals per year. About 70 percent of those meals are sold to approximately 3,500 workers at St. Joseph Ann Arbor, about five percent to patients and the rest to hospital visitors, said Jim Tripp, the manager of retail services.
The cost of meals in the new cafeteria actually went down, which was achieved in part by reducing the portion sizes, Tripp said.
Workers used to 16-ounce plates of chow will now be offered servings of between 10 and 12 ounces, Tripp said.
“It isn’t that people are going to leave hungry,”" Casalou said. "The fact is in this society we are way overeating.”
There are lots of other little changes that make the food healthier, like a fresh fruit and yogurt bar and homemade dressings at the salad stations.
The dressings contain the “good fats” and were chosen over bulk fat-free dressings, which contain lots of questionable additives, Tripp said.
And, the cafeteria has no deep fryer.
Before, the hospital offered 6-ounce servings of French fries cooked in peanut oil every day. At the new cafeteria, that option will be replaced with a 4-ounce serving of seasoned roasted potatoes. If there are fries on the menu, they'll be of the baked variety.
Burgers won’t make an appearance as often as before on the menu. And when they do, the meat used will contain 10 percent of fat, rather than the standard 20 percent offered at the old cafeteria.
Because the majority of those who use the cafeteria are workers, Casalou hopes a side effect of the health-conscious menu is a healthier hospital population. Health care workers have the same high rates of obesity, heart disease and diabetes as the rest of the American population, he noted.
Casalou hopes that a healthier work force will lead to less absenteeism as well as cost savings in health insurance.
The new cafeteria fits with a new anti-obesity effort that urges hospitals across the state to put the health back into hospital food.
The Michigan Health and Hospital Association’s Healthy Food Hospitals program pushes for more locally grown foods and more nutritional choices for patients and staff at its 140 member hospitals.
The new cafeteria’s offerings are in keeping with that program’s objectives, Casalou said.
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.
While the salad bar and soups use a small percentage of produce from the hospital’s farm, there are plans on the horizon to expand the farm and increase the amount of hospital-produced produce used in the cafeteria.
Are you a St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor employee, patient or guest who plans to try the new food? Let us know what you think in the comments section below following the Wednesday opening.