Shawnee Mission Medical Center’s executive chef Paul Clinton wants to get rid of the term “hospital food.”
That’s because at this hospital, local fresh produce, meat and dairy products are making their way onto the menu as part of a new program.
“This week alone, we’ve done something different (on the menu) each day,” said Clinton.
The whole plan got started when Susan Larcom, director of nutrition services at the hospital, met Bill Crooks, former owner of PB&J Restaurants Group, at a farm food and health conference 18 months ago, and they began talking about reducing the amount of processed food the hospital served.
To make the adjustment, the hospital looked to Clinton, who had been the executive chef at PB&J’s Yia Yia’s Euro Bistro in Little Rock, Ark.
“It really had to do with wanting to change the food at Shawnee Mission,” Larcom said. “By bringing in a chef, the goal was to make healthy food taste better. We didn’t want to do some of the same old same old.”
Crooks’ company, Good Food Good Futures, is collaborating with the hospital to develop the program, based on the Shawnee Mission Medical Center’s Seventh-day Adventist Church philosophy of nutrition, sunshine and rest.
“We have gradually started to include the items into patient meals,” said Christine Laskero, operational excellence manager at Shawnee Mission Medical Center.
Such changes include the addition of more minimally processed foods and using fresh fruit and vegetables instead of canned ones on in-patient menus. Next year, the plan is to introduce more local items to the in-patient meals once they get more nutritional information about the food for planning purposes. Changing in-patient meals takes longer because of medical restrictions.
For now, most of the innovation is in the cafeteria for staff and visitors. Last week’s cafeteria menu included locally sourced bison meatloaf, cashew chicken and cranberry walnut quinoa.
The hospital’s goal is to have 10 to 15 percent of all the food it serves originate locally. To make this change, about 15 percent of the food budget is now dedicated to buying local coffee, dairy products, meat, jellies, pickles and fresh fruit and vegetables.
Partnering with Sysco Foods, the hospital buys these products from farmers with Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certifications, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture developed to promote good food safety practices.
Clinton talks with the farmers about what crops are looking good and getting ripe and also lets them know what produce he might like to have on the menu next year so they can plan ahead.
“What’s really great is it’s traceable. With the certification, I can tell you what square of land (each piece) came from,” he said. “I’ve steered away from frozen vegetables.”
The program has been popular with hospital employees and visitors, especially when Clinton has given occasional demonstrations, such as how to cut a casaba melon.
“I think we’ve gone from people wrinkling their noses and saying, ‘What is it?’ to people asking for recommendations,” Laskero said.
To be considered local, farmers must be within 450 miles of the hospital, but often, they’re within 200 miles. Clinton said the definition of a local farmer varies with each organization.
“It’s different from selling at the local farmer’s market. About 90 percent (of farmers in the program) are full-time farmers to be able to do (enough) volume,” said Diana Endicott, manager of Good-Natured Family Farms, a network of small farms and businesses in the area.
Although Clinton acknowledges the hospital won’t be able to serve as much local produce in the winter months, he still plans to use local squash to fill out the menu.
Many of the farmers participating in the program are Mennonite or Amish. They meet the same safety and storage conditions that other farmers do.
“It’s what we depend on for our livelihood,” said Wayne Mazelin, a local Mennonite farmer who works at Twin County Family Farms in Rich Hill, Mo.
This week, during a food demonstration in the hospital cafeteria, he met some of people who eat the lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, watermelon, corn, onions and squash he grows.
“It’s always nice to see where (the food) goes,” he said. “I tell them how we grow it, but I’m always more comfortable on the farm.”