The Essential Food Groups for Hospital Employees

I will not claim to having performed an exhaustive study of the essential food groups that fuel the doctors, nurses and others working within a hospital. 

I have made several observations in the field as part of my due diligence and learning, and I feel comfortable sharing with you these elements, sans food pyramid.

The Essential Foods:

1. Donuts
2. Pizza
3. Coffee, Mountain Dew or other more exotic caffeinated energy beverages
4. Any fried food, most importantly French fries or chicken
5. Hamburgers
6. Chips, or high-fat, cheese-containing and/or salt-laden snacks

Preferably, meals are constructed to include at least three of the essential foods, fit into the pocket of a white coat, and can be eaten in less than four minutes. (Or, more scientifically, the intake rate of 12,000 calories per minute). 

Please note that I am not considering tobacco a food group.

You may ask me why I believe that I am an expert at defining the essential food groups. 

With all due respect to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the USDA, my opinions are based on essentially nothing more than numerous observations in hospital cafeterias around the country, the foods these cafeterias offer and the eating habits of many in health care. 

It most certainly is not based on any formal training that I received on nutrition in medical school.

In all seriousness, health and wellness needs to begin at home. And this home called a hospital needs to promote healthy habits of life. 

Auto pioneer Henry Ford promoted food for its healing qualities. His original hospital had its own farm sources, bakeries and menu planning. 

To paraphrase Henry Ford: “If good food leads to good health, perfect food leads to perfect health.”  

Possibly overstated, but I think you get the point. 

Fewer calories, less processing, less fat, less salt and less simple carbohydrates would go along way to improving obesity, hypertension and vascular disease. While good food can’t do it alone, at least it’s a good start.

But those foods can’t be eaten. They are, to quote one local expert, “yucky.”

Not so fast. 

Our sister hospital, Henry Ford West Bloomfield , under the skillful guidance of a former hotel executive and my counterpart CEO, Gerard van Grisven, created a healthy, great-tasting and affordable menus for patients employees and, yes, even the community. 

They’re using no fryers, no traditional fast foods and creating healthy alternatives to the usual hospital fare. 

Of course, it was difficult for Gerard to not offer foie gras, brie de meaux, viennoiserie and gamay. But I’m sure he and his culinary staff are working on it. 

This is revolutionary in thought and a model for the industry: Make healthy foods more available, easier to pick up in the cafeteria and cheaper. 

The corollary – other than eliminating “suicide sausages” and “ham slams” – is to make less healthy foods less available and a bit more expensive than the healthy alternatives. 

This requires careful consideration of the palate and appeal of the healthy alternative, as well as the cognizance that some of the choices our employees make (myself included) are due to the lack of time we have to sit down and actually eat a meal.

I have been advised that taking this on is akin to other hot button issues like politics, religion and parking spaces. 

But I am bipartisan.

I believe in ecumenical pluralism and park on a surface lot. 

The cause – keeping our most precious assets healthy – is the right one.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this issue. (Please post your comments below.)


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25 thoughts on “The Essential Food Groups for Hospital Employees

  1. I agree with you regarding the healthy foods. At the same time, the cafeteria should take responsibility in posting the ingredients in their foods as well. I have severe allergies, and some of the ingredients they prepare the foods with are not agreeable to me. The people serving the food cannot tell you how the dishes were prepared. The majority of the time I bring my food from home. I am trying to eat healthy.

    Thank you!

  2. This is probably becasse for years, hosital offered bad food choices for employees and people coming to eat in their cafeterias. Even today, if you check out the calorie count and fat grams there is STILL way to may of these bad choices avaiable. Henry ford West Bloomfiedl does a MUCH BETTER JOB.

    Hospital need to TOP contributing to the Obesity of the people they serve.
    Also all too ofter staff do not have time to actually sit down and eat, it is grab what you can gobble it down and get back to work or they may have to work through lunch while in clinic. The eating at 2:30 or 3:00PM, grab something quick!

  3. I would be thrilled to see the cafeteria foods available be both healthy and affordable. The HFHS site I work at offers a salad bar that this laden with unhealthy choices and very few natural choices. Rarely is the soup a broth based soup, and the hot selections are often fried. I have visited West Bloomfield and find their healthy selections a refreshing alternative to what is generally offered in cafeterias. As healthcare workers we encourage our patients to make healthy choices, yet when they come in to our facilities that is not what we offer. As a Registered Nurse and full-time student my area of research interest is obesity, so I would be pleased to see a shift toward health promotion via healthy foods system wide.

  4. “Junk” food is less costly, easier to obtain and more filling; albeit with empty calories. Good, nutritious foods are more time consuming to prepare, in most instances, have a shorter ‘shelf life’ because of less preservatives. and not the first choice for people in a hurry. Once the marketers / grocers who supply these foods to hospitals, food stores, etc; are on board with healthy choices making choices will become easier. Until then, educate yourself, read labels and if it has ingredients in it that a 2nd grader cannot pronounce – don’t eat it!

  5. Like many knowledgeable HFHS employees, I struggle daily with all the important health habits I need to maintain to stay healthy: regular exercise, proper nutrition, sufficient sleep and stress control. But sometimes, it’s just a darn struggle to stick with the program. However, I believe the easier my environment makes these healthy choices, the easier it is for me to stick to my goals. At home, I only have healthy choices available. At my home away from home, however, Henry Ford offers lots of temptations. I’d love to find more vending machine healthy options like dried fruits, delicious yogurts and other tasty treats in vending machines. I’d never choose another chip. It would also be great to have nutritional content provided for all those healthy-appearing cafeteria options and an even wider array of really fresh veggies in a fruit&veg&dip bar. I’d certainly make wiser “fast food” choices more easily. And, I don’t mean to be a Grinch, but there’s an unending parade of sweets and treats employees bring in for holidays and birthdays. Perhaps an administration-approved “Healthy Eating” dietitian tour would go along way to keeping everyone on the same page about healthy nutrition in the workplace. Small changes would make it even easier for me, for all of us, to be successful in meeting our nutritional wellness goals, preserving good health for us and reducing health costs for the administration.

  6. I absolutely love Henry’s! I only wish the calories, fat grams, & sodium could be included near at least some of the food items – even if only estimated values are indicated. One Ford Pl & HFHS Main Campus has this info posted in some areas of the cafeteria.

  7. As we all know HFHS is like a big city of 23,000 people. Since we already have
    a sound business philosophy in place of keeping our money and business here in the system, why not hire West Bloomfield’s chef and kitchen staff to supply food to OFP? and then maybe the main campus?
    We can start out with something very small like the bakery section and just have them make our muffins, cookies, and low cal or sugar free baked items. Since we have an excellent transportation system in place, they can pick up trays at WB and then deliver downtown. If all goes well we can increase the items. It would be more money for the system, not to mention delicious, healthy food!

  8. My only thought is, when are we bringing the West Bloomfield menu to the Main Campus? (I think OFP already does a pretty good job of offering healthy, tasty dishes, though there’s still an all-things-fried station as well.) And — dare I ask — when will we be replacing the Little Caesar’s in the hospital lobby, and what with?

  9. Do not forget the afternoon and night shift selection. Main campus recently closed the cafeteria during the night shift, and during the afternoon shift they remove most of the salad bar(including the spinach i use as a base) and the entire sandwich bar. They often have pamphlets at the entrance advocating the health benefits of seafood, and then go a week or two without a seafood option. When they do have one, half the time it is a battered and fried fish. Please bring better options to all of HFHS.

  10. This is a topic that me and my fellow co-workers discuss all the time. The unhealthy food are so cheap and easily accessible (let’s not talk about the shelf life). I would like to see more healthy affordable food choices available on the menu in all of our cafeterias.

  11. It’s great to know that you are thinking about this, Dr. Popovich! I am currently enjoying great success improving my BMI and fitness with the resources available from HFHS’s great Move to Improve program. The biggest challenge I face every working day is walking down the main hallway at Main Campus without giving in to any of the numerous temptations offered there, and the second is avoiding the treats being shared in the break room in my work area. It really is very strange to find cinnamon rolls the size of Volkswagons for sale in a building devoted to health care.

    Maybe a few small changes would make a big difference. Perhaps the cafeteria and the coffee shops would agree to greatly reduce the serving sizes of desserts, increase the prices on sweetened soft drinks and get rid of the fryers. It would be a start, anyway.

  12. Dr. Popovich thanks for bringing awareness to this subject! Today I had two banana pecan waffles and two turkey patties at OFP and it was delicious! After eating the meal less than 10 minutes, I feel tired. I truly believe it’s about the choices we make, and I didn’t make a good choice this morning:)

  13. I would love to have healthier snacks in the cafeteria. Not only healthy snacks but healthier food offerings as well. I usually get the soup and sometimes it is extremely salty. How can we treat patients for hypertension and then sell their families the same salt laden foods we ask them to avoid in our cafeteria? We have a pizza place that’s open all the time, but the healthy options in the cafeteria are gone before the night shift gets in. In addition, the healthy food items are more expensive. Healthy and budget friendly options that are available all the time would be a wonderful addition to the cafeteria and cafes.

  14. BRING IT ON!!! It’s about TIME! We need more healthy options around here — and like Scott said, the options need to be available to afternoon and midnight staff as well.
    Henry’s Cafe at West Bloomfield is such a great model — great variety, fresh, flavorful, healthy and reasonably priced foods. We NEED this at main campus and we need less fat and sugar-filled options out there tempting us from the vending machines, too!

  15. I agree the big challenge is time and people often want foods that can be eaten while walking or working or driving .

    How about this idea for the cafeteria. Set up 3 Health Rankings of foods offered like Green=Healthy , Yellow = OK but not great and Red= Heart Attack on a Plate . Set Food Service Management goal of offerings being 60% Green 30% Yellow and 10% Red that also met convenience, portability and travel goals.

    Then let the staff pick. If people still want to make bad choices let the RED ZONE food be obvious to everyone.

    Either way for a lot of the team “Grab and Go ” is the daily routine.

  16. Hospitals are supposed to be places of health and healing, and to have restaurants serving saturated fats, hamburgers with white flour buns, french fries with trans-fatty acids, milkshakes containing added sugars and soft drinks containing high-fructose corn syrup as well as aspartame is simply inconsistent with a place of health.
    The Cleveland Clinic has taken this challenge head on and are making changes too. I hope that we can make the same changes here soon, and have the same food opportunites like our own West Bloomfield Hospital. We need to be a good example to our visitors and patients, as well as the employees.
    Learn more:

  17. Really interesting post Dr. Popovich, thanks for your insight . Just reiterating what others above have said , it is difficult at our main campus to have healthy alternatives compared to West Bloomfield. I’ve heard of physicians losing tremendous amount of weight just by having those healthy alternatives that are available in WB. Is there discussion of bringing a significant amount of health alternatives to Detroit? And with all the discussion we have with patients about obesity, what kind of message are we sending our patients with a lack of healthy and fresh choices in our cafeteria and 3rd party vendors? We can’t expect our patients to make reasonable food choices when even at our hospital all we offer them is the same mistakes that had them come here in the first place.

    I look forward to seeing what changes and innovations which are synonymous with Henry Ford can be done to main campus. Healthy alternatives make people feel better, promote active lifestyles, and in reality work better. Hopefully we can bring West Bloomfield to Detroit, and I’m sure everyone will be thankful.

  18. I agree with the other comments about how WB has the top of the line food choices. In not having that at all the HF locations, it feels the message being sent is that other locations are not as serious about the benefits of food relating to health. I try to bring a healthy lunch every day and only go to the cafeteria when I didn’t have time to bring something in. By noticing the workers at the cafeteria it makes me question the food they are eating and serving as I notice them eating it and being overweight, moving slow, etc. I infer that the food is not as nutritionally sound as it could be. That helps me stay on track with bringing my own food in. And since eating so healthy, when I do have to eat out, I really notice the difference in terms of how I feel afterwards (alert -vs- tired) and satisfied due to the nutritiion in the food–so I eat less too then and stay fuller longer -vs- not feeling hungry but not feeling satisfied. That awareness helps me to make sure to bring in my own food. It’s a lot of work but with anything, the more you do it, the easier and routine it becomes. Now it’s easy to do and is becoming very natural to shop at farmers markets and cook nutritious meals. The only thing I really dread is lugging it around with me. That is the only drawback so far.

  19. Great topic for discussion!

    I understand how much of a challenge feeding thousands of employees and patients every day must be for the food service staff. This demand on the staff comes naturally with some loss of quality. Also, designing a meal that doesn’t take the cheap path to good taste (fried, salty, sugary) is also a challenge. But these are hurdles that Aramark is responsible for overcoming to provide quality food.

    The food in our cafeteria is extremely poor quality, especially for the amount of money they charge. I do not expect gourmet food but I honestly do not think I would recognize the food I put into my mouth if I had my eyes closed and was identifying purely based on taste and texture. We are not encouraging patients, families and staff to eat a healthy meal with the current offering and pushing them towards the fried, salty, fatty foods instead.

    I feel like a hypocrite every time I encourage a patient to have a healthy diet and then have them walk past a Little Caesars on the way out of the hospital. In addition, it is the only option available late at night on call. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen colleagues dejectedly eating butter soaked breadsticks and greasy pizza because there is no other choice. We should do better for our patients and staff.

    I’m sorry if this came across as overly critical. I do appreciate the effort of our food service staff to provide food for the hospital. However, I feel we can do much better from an organizational standpoint to put them in a better situation to succeed in providing quality and healthy food choices.

  20. THis is the only time I have taken the time to read and write on the blog because I too feel strongly on the subject . Thank you for tackling such a hot topic among employees. Love Rick N’s suggestion above of offering color coded choices. I have only eaten in the cafeteria once in 4 months, but it was not to my liking. Any changes that can be made will be very much appreciated by the HFHS employees. Thank you to our top leadership for keying in on the issues will improve morale and performance.

  21. How about making the healthier options cheaper (and more available), rather than making the unhealthy ones more expensive? This would help our waistlines as well as our pocketbooks. Even the “bad” food at Main Campus is too expensive already.

  22. Even if we kept many of the current foods in the cafeteria, but cut down on the portion size (and the price) – many of them would be healthier choices. Many times it isn’t what we eat, it’s how much of what we eat. Can’t wait to see what happens.

  23. I work at Fairlane where we only have a small deli counter. Purchasing food every day is costly as well as nutritionally challenging. I bring my lunch from home, along with a healthy snack every day. I do make one exception weekly, I order a sandwich from Jimmy Johns because they deliver and I can order a turkey sandwich, my splurge each week. We don’t have to succomb to the temptation and expense of cafeteria choices…we have ultimate control over our choices….Happy New Year everyone 🙂

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