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UIHC revamps menu to better suit patients

BY DEREK KELLISON | MARCH 01, 2012 6:30 AM

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Rows of chicken and hamburgers hissed as a University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics chef slapped them on the grill. Six chefs were scattered about the kitchen preparing for the approaching dinner rush.

"Right around 4:30 p.m., you'll see a herd of people coming through here," said Ray Hernandez, the UIHC nutrition and patient services manager. "It gets busy really fast."

UIHC officials said they've condensed the number of food offerings over the past several years, providing simpler menus to improve the food quality for patients.

Currently, the UIHC's patient services provide 300 to 400 food options for patients across 36 different menus. Chefs prepare everything from fast-food items such as pizza to healthier options such as hummus and vegetable wraps.

"The taste is different from a restaurant because the food is healthier, but the patients really enjoy it," Hernandez said. "The pizza here is especially a favorite."

Doug Robertson, the senior associate director of UIHC patient services, said the hospital has been paring its options to better cater to patients' cravings.

"You know, I was surprised, but the food here really is good," said Marcene Bailey, a UIHC receptionist at the food and nutrition services. Bailey said she was a patient at the hospital a few years ago.

Robertson said the hospital used to serve more than 600 items until it began to reduce the food options in 2003. During that time, the UIHC also switched from scheduled meal times to hotel room-service style — patients can order any food item at any time, as long as the kitchen is open. The kitchen is open every day from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., Robertson said.

"Before room service, every patient ate the same things at the same time," Hernandez said. "We received a lot of negative feedback from patients who weren't eating their entire meals."

The goal of a smaller menu, Robertson said, is not to limit patients but to make the menu easy to navigate.

"We're trying to streamline the process even more, so patients won't have to remember so many different items," he said. Preparing fewer items allows chefs to make more appetizing food, homestyle, or comfort food, he said.

Robertson said better taste means less food is likely to be thrown out.

UIHC uses low-sodium and low-fat versions of such foods as tomato sauce and pepperoni to help keep food healthy, Hernandez said. Patients' daily intake of calories, sodium, sugars, and fats are also monitored. Individual patients require different plans. To keep track, Hernandez said, patient profiles can be used by employees when taking a patient's order.

Jason Bradley, a nutritionist at Washington Street Wellness Center, 505 E. Washington St., said hospitals providing "lean and green" choices and watching possible bad food is a step in the right direction.

"It may be a baby step, but I'm glad that hospitals are realizing that food is more than just calories," he said. "Food is important."

In the past, health-care providers and the general public were not as aware of the effects certain chemicals and ingredients in food had on the body.

Other area hospitals, including Washington County Hospitals and Clinics, are adopting similar food plans.

"Room-service style is becoming a trend in hospitals," said Steve Robe, the food-services director at the Washington County facility. Hospital officials made the switch to room service two-and-a-half years ago, he said.

The clinics deal mostly with elderly patients, so its menu focuses on homestyle and comfort food choices, Robe said, and the facility provides its patients with food items that have reduced sodium and fat, similar to UIHC.

"[Room-service style] gives patients more freedom of choice," Robe said.


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