Hospital Foodservice Initiatives Exciting Food Innovation Implications

Increasingly, hospitals are incorporating health initiatives into their cafeterias and campuses to offer healthy options to patients, workers, visitors and guests.  Whether hospital operated or outsourced to contract foodservice providers, hospitals are reporting healthy food improvements are associated with higher patient and employee satisfaction.  For many hospitals, healthy cafeterias draw in new and repeat customers from the surrounding area.  New customers have great implications for a foodservice sector traditionally known for revenue neural profits.   

Leveraging lessons learned and expanding products developed or reformulated for healthy hospital initiatives into other institutional foodservice settings will be critical to making sure what folks learn and eat at the hospitals makes an imprint on their long-term eating habits. 

IFT recently summarized trends and innovative ideas around healthy hospital initiatives.  Based on IFT’s findings, the exciting food innovations taking place in healthy hospital cafeteria and campus initiatives are:

  • Increased quantity, quality, and variety of fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Improved nutritional and packaging quality of grab-n-go meal and snack options
  • Revamped healthy vending options and labeling
  • More kitchens with no trans fat, reduced saturated fats, and more healthful fats
  • Expanded offering of high fiber and lean protein options
  • Reformulated lower-calorie, sugar, and sodium entrées and snack options
  • More cafeterias providing accurate nutritional content data at point of purchase
  • More kitchen renovations to increase baking and steaming  
  • Increased restaurant-style, cooked-to-order items for patients and cafeteria visitors
  • Pricing strategies to incentive healthier selections
  • Creating policies regarding the presence of and offerings by fast food restaurants operating on hospital campuses
  • Developing policies and practices to promote breastfeeding

Hospital Hype Rationale

Advocates for healthy hospitals believe this setting is particularly powerful for facilitating meaningful changes in chronic diseases and serving as role models in worksite wellness because there are more than 5,754 registered hospitals in the United States.  More than 36,915,331 patients were admitted in American hospitals in 2010, the majority of which receive dietary guidance or suffer from a diet-related chronic disease.  Hospitals also employ over 5 million workers in the United States, including shift workers in foodservice and maintenance who are at risk of developing diet-related chronic diseases.  Healthy hospital advocates believe investments in hospital wellness will help reduce healthcare costs, improve worker productivity, reduce absenteeism, and enhance patient satisfaction and health outcomes.  An added incentive is worksite wellness and community needs assessments can help tax-exempt, non-for-profit hospitals fulfill their societal benefit responsibilities and avoid penalties (Pub. L. 111-148, 124 Stat. 119, Sec. 501(r)). 

Healthy Hospital Initiatives Resources  

Healthy Hospital Initiative References

Agencies & Organizations

American Hospital Association.  A Call to Action:  Creating a Culture of Health.  January 2011.  Available at:  Last visited April 12, 2012.

American Hospital Association.  Fast Facts on US Hospitals.  Available at:  Last visited April 12, 2012.

American Medical Association.  Report 8 of the Council on Science and Public Health (A-09) Sustainable Food (Resolution 405, A-08) (Reference Committee D).  Available at:  Last visited May 1, 2012.

Center for Science in the Public Interest.  Top hospitals harming hearts by cooking with trans fat.  February 6, 2006.  Available at:  Last visited April 10, 2012.

Partnership for Healthier America.  Available at:!/about-the-partnership.  Last visited April 12, 2012.

Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.  The Five Worst Hospital Food Environments:  A Report from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.  Winter 2011.  Available at:  Last visited April 10, 2012.

United States Department of Health and Human Services National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity.  Healthy Hospital Choices:  Recommendations and Approaches from an Expert Panel.  Available at:  Last visited April 12, 2012.

Articles, Letters & Studies

Adams KM, Kohlmeier M, Zeisel SH.  Nutrition education in U.S. medical schools:  latest update of a national survey.  Academic Med.  2010;85:1537-1542

Arcand J, Steckham K, Tzianetas R, L’abbe MR, and Newton GE.  Evaluation of sodium levels in hospital patient menus.  Arch Intern Med. 2012;Jul 16:1-2

Boutelle KN, Fannin H, Newfield RS, Harnack L.  Nutritional quality of lunch meal purchased for children at a fast-food restaurant.  Childhood Obesity.  2011;7(4):316-322.

Boyle M, Lawrence S, Schwarte L, Samuels S, and McCarthy WJ.  Health care providers’ perceived role in changing environments to promote healthy eating and physical activity:  Baseline findings from health care providers participating in the healthy eating, active communities program.  Pediatrics.  2009;123:S293.

Cosgrove T & Maring P.  Food and food purchasing:  A role for health care.  Available at:  Last visited April 12, 2012.

Cram P, Brahmjee KN, Fendrick AM, Saint S.  Fast food franchises in hospitals. JAMA.  2002;287:2945-2946

Deon S.  Letter to Hospitals.  Available at:  Last visited April 12, 2012.

Gordon E.  Fast food chains in cafeterias put hospitals in a bind.  Available at:  Last visited April 12, 2012.

Lawrence S, Boyle M, Craypo L, and Samuels S.  The food and beverage vending environment in health care facilities participating in the healthy eating, active communities program.  Pediatrics.  2009;123:S287.

Lesser LI, Hunnes DE, Reyes P, Arab L, Ryan GW, Brook RH, Cohen DA.  Assessment of food offerings and marketing strategies in the food-service venues in California Children’s hospitals.  Pediatrics.  2012;12:62-67.

Lesser LI.  Prevalence and type of brand name fast food at academic-affiliated hospitals.  JABFM.  2006;19:5:526-527.

McDonald CM, Karamlou T, Wengle JG, Gibson J, McCrindle BW.  Nutrition and exercise environment available to outpatients, visitors, and staff in children’s hospitals in Canada and the United States.  Arch Pediatr Adolesc.  2006;160:900-905.

Obadia M, Rakhshani N, Jeffery AS, Chahal N, Sangha G, McCrindle BW, O’Conner DL, Maccarone T, Hamilton JK.  MEALTRAIN:  What do inpatient hospitalized children chose to eat?  J Pediatr.  2010;156:685-686.

Perrrine CG, Shealy KR, Scanlon KS, Grummer-Strawn LM, Galuska DA, Dee DL, Cohen JH.  Vital signs:  Hospital practices to support breastfeeding—United States, 2007-2009.  MMWR.  60;30:1020-1025

Romano M.  Food fight:  When it comes to catering patients, outsourcing firms still hold a small slice of the hospital foodservice business vs. in-house operations.  But who serves up the best quality and efficiency?  Modern Healthcare.  September 13, 2004.

Sahud HB, Binns HJ, Meadow WL, Tanz RR.  Marketing fast food:  Impact of fast food restaurants in children’s hospitals.  Pediatrics.  2006;118:2290-2297.

Solh Z, Adamo KB, Platt JL, Ambler K, Boyd E, Orrbine E, Cummings E, LeBlanc CMA.  Practising what we preach:  A look at healthy active living policy and practice in Canadian paediatric hospitals.  Paediatr Child Health.  2010;15:10:e42-448.

Thorndike AN, Sonnenberg, L, Riis J, Barraclough S, Levy DE.  A 2-Phase labeling and choice architecture intervention to improve healthy food and beverage choices. Am J Public Health.  2012;102(3):527-533.