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Published on February 17, 2011

Delivering Healthy Food Choices and Help with Healing

By Melanie Gonzales
Clinical Nutrition and Patient Dining Manager

Food is central to our lives. It offers comfort and has the power to satisfy us. Its range of smells, textures and tastes delight our senses. The nutrients in food are an essential part of the healing process. At Overlake, we know food is critical to one’s health and well-being. To improve nutrition for our hospital patients, Overlake recently introduced a unique Seasons Dining room service program.

One of the most important ways room service enhances nutrition is by providing patients more control over their meals. They now have more choices about what to eat, how much to eat and when. We started with a focus on using the highest-quality, freshest ingredients to create dishes with an appealing presentation as well as excellent taste.

It’s not surprising that when foods are fresher and look and taste better, patients are more interested in meal time. Many physicians have commented that the benefits of this type of program can include faster recovery times and improved nutritional intake. Because patients order food based on their individual preferences, they tend to eat better, recover faster and ultimately go home faster.

Together with our dietitians, our hospitality team started by completely redesigning 12 different menus with a broad range of ethnic, organic, seasonal and fresh items to choose from. We wanted to develop appetizing and healthful offerings like Tandoori Chicken Skewers with mango chutney, Elliott Bay Salmon Filet with an apple-cider reduction, Gaucho Flat Iron Steak Salad and Osso Bucco-Style Pork Shanks.

The menus are based on the different diets recommended for each patient by their physician. More than 70 percent of patients select from the menu for “Regular” diets that focus on healthy, fresh meals, and the widest range of choices like made-to-order omelets to grilled salmon sandwiches to flat iron steak salad. Other menus address specific diet needs such as heart-healthy, low-sodium and low-fiber options.

For example, a low-sodium diet is beneficial for managing multiple medical conditions including high blood pressure as well as congestive heart failure and other conditions. When following a low sodium diet, foods are seasoned with fresh herbs and spices to add flavor without adding additional salt. This diet avoids processed and packaged foods such as regular canned soups, processed meats like bacon and ham, chips, frozen meals and certain higher sodium cheeses.

Rather than rely on a single menu for everyone, we developed diet-specific menus so that patients receive only those food choices they can order. The program doesn’t dictate each meal, but gives patients options about what to order. It’s important that patients learn to make choices and balance their diet, as they will have to do on their own once they leave the hospital.

Patients also need important education about their specific diets and must learn how to make healthy food choices and sometimes alter their diets to improve their health. Room Service Attendants along with nurses offer important diet education, using the menu as a tool to help evaluate and direct food selections and an eating schedule. Patients are encouraged to take menus home and use them as a guide to meal preparation and healthy eating after they leave the hospital. Each menu includes a diet description that outlines the desired food options and why they are recommended. Carbohydrate grams are listed on all menus to help diabetic patients balance meal choices throughout the day.

It was important that menus also reflect the cultural diversity of our region with more ethnic options, more vegetarian options and more “build your own” options for omelets and sandwiches. Patients will find many appetizing choices such as Thai Salad, Grilled Vegetable Stack with lentils and red pepper sauce as well as seasonal menu items like Penne Pasta with Roasted Winter Vegetables and Tika Masala with jasmine rice and naan.

With all-new menus full of seasonal offerings, extensive education and customer service training, our Seasons Dining staff has made major strides to improve nutrition for patients in the hospital and long after they go home.

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