Rewarding Innovative Food: July 6, 2014

While hospitals should set an example of good health, for years hospital food was neither good nor healthy.  And that didn’t go down well at Lee Memorial Health System.

“I believe the general population is becoming more and more aware of the appropriate and necessary nature of healthy eating,” says Larry Altier, who is the director of food and nutrition for Lee Memorial Health System.

So the health system put its money where its mouth was, investing in a massive food service operation. We got an inside look.

“This is a 38,000 square foot facility. It’s been designed to USDA food construction safe design standards,” says Altier.

Four hospitals and growing; there many mouths to feed each day. So the health system became its own private label food manufacturer, developing healthy recipes, using quality products.

“We inspect every product that comes in the back door, especially our produce and protein products. We can look at those items and to assure that there is not only the highest possible quality but we then can control the cleaning, the trimming, and the verification that the food is safe,” says Altier.

Turning raw ingredients into healthy meals sounds like something people do in their own kitchens every day. But supplying 5 million meals a year is over the top. Based on its success, Lee Memorial Health System was recognized nationally as innovator of the year by a major food publication.

“We anticipate that this can save between 15 and 30% of manufacturers mark up going forward,” says Altier.

Trimming the fat allows them to beef up the menu with lean proteins and more fresh, plant-based items; helping diners consume less calories.

“Reducing the amount of fat in a person’s diet can only help you offset the obesity problem,” says Altier.

It boils down to redefining an outlet that was ripe for change.