Monday Medical: A healthier hospital | SteamboatToday.com

Monday Medical: A healthier hospital

Susan Cunningham/For the Steamboat Today

With real food smoothies, fruit-infused water and homemade entrees, Yampa Valley Medical Center's Nutrition Services strives to offer food that's both flavorful and healthy.

"I love being a department that takes people by surprise," said Melanie Stewart, director of nutrition services at YVMC. "We're not the typical hospital food department."

To continue to support healthy food choices, YVMC recently joined the Colorado Healthy Hospitals Compact.

"It's going to help give us clear guidance on how we can continue to improve our food and beverage environment and get recognition for our efforts at the state level," Stewart said. "It provides tools, resources and a peer network of other organizations on the same path."

This year as part of the compact, YVMC will baseline four areas: healthier food, healthier beverages, marketing and breastfeeding policy and support. They also will ensure the majority of entrees served are nutrient-dense. Eventually, Stewart hopes YVMC can become a resource for other hospitals.

The focus on healthier food began two years ago when YVMC's Healthy Culture Team identified nutrition as one of the top three areas that impacts employees. They crafted a nutrition philosophy with the goal of making "the healthy choice the easy choice," Stewart said.

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Every year, YVMC serves about 115,000 meals. Some employees eat two or three meals per day at the hospital. With long shifts in what can be stressful situations, the food that is served has a significant impact. It also is a critical part of patient care.

"Food truly is a major component in healing and wellness," Stewart said. "What you put in your body really matters."

Stewart and her team have focused on increasing the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables used in meals: Of the top 20 food items the hospital orders, 16 are produce. Natural meats are used when possible, and ingredients like MSG, trans-fats, artificial preservatives and food colorings are avoided.

Vegetarian and gluten-free options always are available, and deep-fried foods are off the menu after the fryer was removed last year. Plus, hot entrees are labeled with a stoplight system to make it easier to choose wisely: green for nutrient-dense, red for calorie-dense.

"I didn't think having one healthy choice was going to cut it," Stewart said. "We've really flipped it, and the majority of the food we serve is healthy or nutrient dense."

That doesn't mean the food is tasteless or solely vegetarian. Popular healthy entrees include grilled flank steak; grilled cheese sandwiches loaded with fresh spinach and tomatoes; salads made with greens, quinoa, nuts and dried fruits; and homemade carrot ginger soup. A cheeseburger still is an option, too — it just happens to be a 4-ounce burger on a whole wheat bun, with natural chips.

The hospital's nutrition initiatives reach outside of the eatery with offerings like free fruit-infused water and healthier vending machines.

YVMC's coffee shop, Yampa Joe's, offers real food smoothies that pack in the fruits and veggies. One favorite is the Tropical Green Smoothie, made with spinach, banana, pineapple, mango and coconut water.

"It's something you can truly feel good about drinking," Stewart said.

Stewart credits her staff of 23 employees — from dieticians to cooks — with the strides that the department has made toward healthy nutrition.

One perk of their work is the frequent compliments about the food: "They get a lot of really positive feedback," she said.

The Yampa Valley Medical Center Eatery and Yampa Joe's coffee shop is available to employees, visitors and the public. Visit http://www.yvmc.org/cafeteria for hours and menu.

Susan Cunningham writes for Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at cunninghamsbc@gmail.com.