Monday Medical: Making it easy to choose healthy foods | SteamboatToday.com

Monday Medical: Making it easy to choose healthy foods

Susan Cunningham/For Steamboat Today

Hospital food isn't always known for being tasty and healthy. But at Yampa Valley Medical Center, where you can enjoy a green smoothie while sitting near a Tower Garden, food is exactly that.

In fact, YVMC earned the silver level ranking in the Colorado Healthy Hospitals Compact, a program that helps hospitals improve their food and beverage offerings.

For the past year, as part of the compact, YVMC has base lined four areas: healthier food, healthier beverages, marketing and breastfeeding policy and support. Now that results are in, they're pleased with what they've found.

"We didn't want to make any changes before we knew where our current levels were within the program," said Melanie Stewart, director of Nutrition Services at YVMC. "We were a good, solid silver without making any changes up front. "Our goal now in the next couple of months is to make slow, incremental changes to our marketing and our beverage options and menu selections to get a gold. It's very feasible."

The last rankings for the compact's partner hospitals show two hospitals at the gold level and three at the silver level.

YVMC ramped up the focus on serving healthier food three years ago, when the Healthy Culture Team identified nutrition as one of the top three areas that impacts employees.

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Every year, YVMC serves about 115,000 meals. Some employees eat two or three meals a day at the hospital, and food is an important part of patient care.

For the healthier food section of the compact, YVMC earned points for eliminating trans fats, not using a fryer and offering a healthy meal every day.

To qualify as a healthy meal, a protein and two sides must have fewer than 700 calories, less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fats, fewer than 800 mg of sodium, and no trans fats. Two popular healthy entrees are the stuffed peppers with Mediterranean quinoa filling and the fresh salmon filet.

"All of our cooked vegetables are fresh, not canned or frozen," Stewart said. "We really look at increasing fruits and vegetables as much as we can."

YVMC offers healthy entrée salads and encourages adding fruits and vegetables to breakfasts with vegetable and egg scrambles or oatmeal with nuts and berries. For meats, they offer Red Bird natural chicken breasts, sustainable fish and lean beef, always with a focus on portion sizes.

In the past year, Yampa Joe's, the hospital's coffee shop, has served more than 6,000 smoothies, such as the Purple Heart, which has kale, blueberries, spinach, pomegranate juice and Greek yogurt. Patients needing supplemental nutrition receive smoothies with added protein first.

For the healthier beverages section of the compact, about half the beverages YVMC offered met the healthy beverage standard, such as the fruit infused water served throughout the hospital.

"It's definitely one of the most popular beverages in the building," Stewart said. "We go through about 40 gallons a day."

There's still comfort food, but sometimes with a new twist. For instance, a few Taco Tuesdays have featured quinoa instead of meat as the protein on their taco bar.

"I always look at where we can continue to improve," Stewart said. "We get a lot of great feedback, so I'm really proud. We're definitely not going to go backwards."

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

The Yampa Valley Medical Center Eatery is open daily and Yampa Joe’s coffee shop is open Monday through Friday. Visit yvmc.org/cafeteria for hours of operation and check out the weekly menu.