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Washington Hospital Meals Feature Healthier, Locally Grown Foods

October 12, 2010


Reducing Our Carbon Footprint While Promoting Healthy Food Choices

Alfredo Macias has worked in the food service industry for more than 25 years, learning his craft from master chefs around the country. After applying his culinary skills for all those years in restaurants, hotels, country clubs and other locations, Macias decided to make a major career change – and change his approach to cooking, too.

"I felt that working in food services for the health care industry would be a good career path for me," explains Macias, who has served as the Catering Manager in Food & Nutrition Services Department at Washington Hospital for more than a year. "I wanted to be more conscientious about the type of food I created and not use all the unhealthy ingredients such as fats and sugars that you find in traditional restaurant cooking. Working for Washington Hospital has given me the chance not only to learn more about healthy foods, but also to help other people learn healthy eating habits."

Macias is in charge of the hospital cafe and catering responsibilities for events hosted by the hospital. He also works with the clinical side of Food & Nutrition Services to develop menus and recipes for patient meals.

"My interest in healthy eating is both a personal and a professional concern," he notes. "I realized that traditional cooking was not as healthy as it should be, and it motivated me to learn how to make food that not only tastes good, but also is good for you."

"Part of our focus is to seek out organic and locally grown produce," Macias adds. "We currently are buying produce locally to support local growers, and we try to buy foods in season. We also have our own organic vegetable and herb garden where we grow tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, parsley, rosemary, basil and chives to use in our recipes for the cafeteria and catering. The garden is maintained by the hospital gardeners, and we harvest things as they are ready."

In addition to organic and locally grown produce, Washington Hospital now uses cage-free eggs – even the mayonnaise is made with cage-free eggs. The hospital also buys local dairy products and works closely with food sales representatives to find wild-caught fish and free-range poultry whenever possible.

"Our menu previously featured more red meat," Macias says. "Now we serve more fish and poultry, and we have a good selection of vegetarian options, including a vegetarian entrée every day. We stay away from trans-fats and hydrogenated oils, and we don’t use as much refined sugar or products with high-fructose corn syrup. We have come up with a menu of ‘Sinless Desserts’ that have substantially less fat and sugar, which are very popular with patients and people dining in the cafeteria."

While Macias has supervised many significant changes over the course of a year, Washington Hospital’s move to serving healthier meals actually started about two and a half years ago.

"We wanted to avoid foods with pesticides, hormones and preservatives," says Food & Nutrition Services Production Manager Elvis Lavarreda, who works closely with both Macias and Purchasing Supervisor Scott Garcia.

 

"We’ve increased our use of fruits and vegetables, and we avoid trans-fats, hydrogenated oils and packaged products," Lavarreda emphasizes. "We also use seasonal fish that’s available on the West Coast, working with the Monterrey Bay Aquarium to ensure that the fish we use is ‘sustainable’ and not in danger of extinction or at risk."

The move to healthier meals also has involved staff and community education efforts, including the introduction of a farmers market every other Thursday on the hospital campus during the past summer.

"The farmers market features organic, locally grown produce, and it has been so successful that we plan to do it again next year," Lavarreda says. "We have had widespread support for all our efforts throughout the hospital administration and staff."

Working with the hospital’s Green Team Committee, the Food & Nutrition Services staff has introduced a variety of measures designed to reduce their "carbon footprint" and become more environmentally responsible.

"We have introduced biodegradable plates, cups and utensils," Lavarreda says. "We also are composting all our food waste and using more recyclable products. In addition, we have lowered our use of bottled water by more than six percent, which reduces our consumption of plastic that is made from oil. That may not be a huge difference yet, but it’s certainly a good start.

To learn more about Washington Hospital’s efforts in promoting a healthier community through environmental awareness, visit www.whhs.com/green.

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