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These hospitals are making a radical change to how they feed their patients: 'There's been a lot of thought into [this]'

"There's been such a negative connotation about hospital food."

Plant-based meals

Photo Credit: iStock

NYC Health + Hospitals is giving new meaning to the phrase "eat your vegetables." The hospital system's kitchen team is basing a menu entirely on plant-based meals. 

The organization, which oversees 11 hospitals in New York City, has announced that plant-based foods will be the primary menu option for inpatients. Facilities at Bellevue, Harlem, and South Brooklyn were the latest to join the veggie menu movement.

Plant-based eating includes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, lentils, peas, nuts, and seeds. Animal foods, sweets, and processed food should be avoided, according to NYC Health.

"Science shows that a plant-based diet helps fight off disease," NYC Health CEO Dr. Mitchell Katz said in a hospital press release. "Plant-based meals also help treat some of the chronic illnesses that cause many of our patients to wind up in the hospital. The expansion of our program will help get them on a healthier path."

NYC Health introduced a plant-based lunch system during the summer and also had a successful meatless Monday program, started by food service provider Sodexo in 2019, according to FoodService Director Magazine. 

"We've created very specific scripts to describe the food to patients," Samantha Morgenstern, senior director of nutrition services for acute care at Sodexo, told the magazine. "We don't use the words 'vegan,' 'vegetarian,' or 'default.' There's been a lot of thought into how this has been presented to our patients, knowing we would have to meet them where they were."

Morgenstern added that another perk is an estimated 59 cents in savings per meal.

About 1.1 million New Yorkers receive care at NYC Health. Patients staying overnight can choose plant-based options from a variety of cultures, including pad Thai noodles, zesty burrito bowl, and garden bolognese with rotini and spinach. 

NYC Health says that people on this diet could lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar. Other health benefits include decreasing inflammation and losing weight. 

"Access to culturally diverse, nutritious food in our hospitals helps introduce healthy diets and habits that patients can maintain once discharged," Kate MacKenzie, food policy executive director for New York City Mayor Eric Adams, said in the press release.

Moving forward, inpatients at NYC Health should expect to hear more about plant-based meals. Sodexo plans to continue a marketing push to highlight the taste and benefits of the menu. So far, FoodService Director reports that 50% to 60% of patients opt for plant-based meals, with a 90% satisfaction rating.

"There's been such a negative connotation about hospital food, but by bringing an executive chef to a bedside and showing them the talent is there to bring this food, [it] elevates the experience," Morgenstern said.

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