By Julie Moses, RDN, Director of Culinary

Hospitals have an unique ability to support the health and wellness of individuals on multiple levels. As a culinary director at a 98-bed facility in Marion, Illinois, I’ve seen this firsthand. Through continuing education, seminars, health fairs, and more, hospitals are truly impacting the wellness of their community. This got my wheels turning on how the culinary department could get involved. Food is such an integral part of the healing process, but more so, it also can prevent issues from arising if people have the right nutrients in their body. At my account, we’ve been extremely successful in building community through the food we serve. Not only for the individuals who dine with us, but also with the local businesses. The key to supporting fresh, sustainable food as well as the community can be made easy by incorporating these three initiatives.

Build Partnerships with Local Farms and Organizations

Take initiative to introduce yourself to local farms and vendors. You’ll be surprised how one small connection can grow into a support network of many by simply reaching out. When we first implemented our new sustainability and animal welfare policies, I started by reaching out to one organization to learn more about their practices. That local business was Lick Creek, a pork and beef farm. Through our interaction, we began to learn more about each other's missions and a partnership was developed. As the partnership grew, Lick Creek’s owners were able to connect us to other small farms and businesses in the area. Soon, we had a large network of organizations we could use to source new food items, allowing us to better support our sustainability practices. Establishing a single partnership can pave the path for many more along the way, resulting in a strong community network. 

Incorporate Fresh Items into the Cafe

As new partnerships begin to develop, determine if any of their produce or meat items can be incorporated into the cafe. As an example, if your hospital cafe connects with an orchard in the area, consider purchasing their produce during peak season to sell or incorporate into dishes. Set a calendar of what produce items are in season to help develop seasonally inspired menus and save on costs. When incorporating produce or meats from a local farm or business, advertise the organization with simple signage to support them in their efforts and provide visibility to their services. As an additional benefit to this initiative, customers get a taste of the sustainable resources they have in their community. 

Find Ways to Support the Community as a Whole

Farmer Market (1)Providing nourishing meals to visitors of the hospital cafe is a given. But beyond the cafe, hospital culinary teams can support the nutrition and wellness of the community around them by getting involved. Here in Marion we started a farmers market for the community. Through our established partnerships, we began hosting a farmers market at the hospital one day a week. It was so popular that we had to adjust the time so more community members could attend and could access fresh food from area businesses. If a farmers market isn’t currently feasible, consider offering cooking or nutrition classes or donating food to a local charity. Supporting the community can happen in a variety of ways; it’s all about finding what works best for your facility. 

Hospitals have a way of impacting the greater good of the community. Whether it’s collaborating with organizations, incorporating local ingredients into menus, or building community programs, hospital culinary teams can truly be a community asset. 

To learn more about what HHS’ culinary team at Heartland Regional Medical Center is doing to support their community, read Food Management’s articles about their farmers market and support of the Veterans Honor Flight program.

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