A patient satisfied with his or her meal is more likely to eat, and therefore, more likely to recover. This simple premise led to a shift in hospital dining about a decade ago, to room-service style. Gone are the days of the conventional tray line, which was essentially a food-service assembly line with two meal choices and a set time for the meal to be delivered to the patient’s room. Build-your-own menus and food made to order, on the patient’s schedule, are now the norm.
“We want people to feel as comfortable as possible while they’re here,” said Michael Book, the executive chef at Froedtert Hospital. “We also want to provide as much variety as they can imagine.”
Tracking Nutritional Values
Hospital dining is very different than restaurant or hotel dining because success is not just defined by taste and service. There are more than 52 version of the Froedtert & MCW menu, and 126 medical diets to consider. Froedtert Hospital, Community Memorial Hospital in Menomonee Falls, and St Joseph’s Hospital in West Bend, all operate under the same standards. The call center at Froedtert Hospital handles patient meal orders for all three hospitals. Diet clerks virtually track nutritional values as the patients place their order, guiding them through their options.
“For example, if the diet clerk knows the patient is on a cardiac diet, that person’s food should be low-sodium,” said Teresa Howell, supervisor for the in-room dining call center at Froedtert Hospital. “As the patient makes a selection, the diet clerk tracks the patient’s sodium consumption. If he or she reaches the limit or have already reached it, we can work together to select a different menu item that fits the parameters of the diet.”
A Well-Orchestrated Dance
Howell calls it a “well-orchestrated dance”, from the moment the patient places the order to the moment the meal is delivered. Diet clerks, cooks and food-service staff work together to deliver the meal to the patient within 45 minutes.
“We run continuously from 6 a.m. to almost 8 p.m.,” said Bill Coleman, patient services manager at Froedtert Hospital. “From the call center to the kitchen line, we have a highly skilled staff that knows how to quickly cook the food fresh, and we have all of the supportive equipment to keep that food hot or cold until the meal is prepared and delivered. When it is delivered, customer service is our priority.”
Taste, Variety and Food Safety
All of this must be done without sacrificing taste, variety and food-safety standards.
Book’s staff of cooks is tasked with preparing as healthy of a dish as possible, without skimping on taste. A recipe committee evaluates the recipe for each item on the Froedtert Health menu throughout the system and calibrates the nutritional values.
“We cut the sodium in some recipes by half, just by changing up the seasonings and spices, but the taste stays the same,” Book said.
A menu committee uses feedback from patients and families to keep the menu items exciting. Menu items are customizable, and if the prescribed diet allows, a patient can often choose to have a particular dish prepared a dozen different ways.
The cooks have learned ideal quantities to batch-cook items made from scratch, such as the meatloaf or the tortilla soup — a hospital favorite that some people even buy by the quart to take home. (Download the recipe.) Some foods, like onions and peppers, are ordered pre-cut or pre-diced, to save time.
“We get deliveries all week long,” Coleman said. “It is a continuous process of ordering product, stocking and cooking to meet demand.”
“We only make food if we’re running short,” Book said. “We don’t make meatloaf because it is Monday. We have a sophisticated system, built through trial and error and based on safety and quality, which allows us to have a constant rotation of fresh, homemade foods.”
A Model for Success
Froedtert Hospital made the transition to room-service style dining in 2008. The Food Services department has conducted several studies to understand how patients responded to the change. The hospital’s latest tray audit indicated close to 90 percent of patients finished their meals.
“The difference between now and then is the patients are in control. We are giving them what they want to eat when they want to eat it,” Book said.