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Elmbrook Memorial comes out on top of Hospital Food Fight

Staff aims for tasty, healthy recipes

May 8, 2012

You eat three meals a day, but do you ever really learn anything while you eat?

Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare-Elmbrook Memorial tries to ensure patients have a side of knowledge with each meal so they can make better choices long after they leave the hospital.

Nutrition was the focus of the second annual Hospital Food Fight on April 22, an event that benefited Stillwater Cancer Support Services. Elmbrook Memorial faced off against Aurora Healthcare's Summit Medical Center, ProHealth Care's Waukesha Memorial and ProHealth Care's Oconomowoc Memorial. Not only did Elmbrook win best dish with its paella de marisco, it also won the people's choice award.

Each dish had to meet the American Dietetic Association's nutritional guidelines and cost less than $5.

Sean Durbin, area chef for Wheaton Franciscan, and his team put a great deal of thought into the food they serve at Elmbrook Hospital every single day.

"We work every day both on the retail side and the patient side to get away from what people perceive as hospital food," Durbin said.

Creating multifaceted menu

Hospital food is not what is used to be, said Pat Kempen, director of the Nutrition Services Department at Wheaton Franciscan. Elmbrook has worked for years to overcome the hospital food stereotype.

"Gone are the days when you're standing in line and someone is slopping food on your tray," Kempen said. "We are in a room-service environment."

The kitchen at Elmbrook offers room service to patients as part of the "Dining at Your Request" program that runs from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, caters employee events and meetings and runs a cafeteria that offers an array of items.

In a world of health conscience consumers, label-readers, special diets and room service, Elmbrook has worked to stay in line with the latest trends. On Tuesday of last week, its cafeteria featured shrimp stir fry - made to order - and baked cod as main entrees. The food is made with fresh ingredients and tested for taste before served, Kempen said.

She said the hospital "lives, breathes and dies by patient satisfaction," and food is a large part of that.

To start, part of the Nutrition Services Department's function is to coach patients about healthy food choices, and ensure they follow the dietary regime prescribed by their doctor. A patient's diet requirements are entered into a computer system, so when a patient calls for room service, their name shows up on a screen allowing staff to guide them toward a selection that's best for them.

Kempen said staff also talks about diet over the phone.

"Sometimes patients get frustrated, but we look at it as a teaching moment where we can teach them to make good choices," she said.

Pinch of comfort

The health of patients is the first priority at Elmbrook. The chefs in the kitchen, however, also make families and hospital employees' satisfaction a priority when they dine.

"We do a lot of healthy recipes, but we also try to keep in mind that not everyone at the hospital is sick," Durbin said. "We do a lot of wellness recipes, but we still need some of the comfort foods."

He said creating dishes that are tasty and also look savory is key, especially for patients who need a higher caloric intake, such as a patient suffering from cancer.

"They need the calories and they need the energy, so if we can create something that tastes great and looks great, it helps them get their caloric intake," Durbin said.

The challenge, however, is making recipes that can be expanded to feed 300 people, while shrinking to a single serving and maintaining the flavor.

To do this, the chefs work with Sodexo, an integrated food and facilities management company that has thousands of tested recipes for use in hospitals. Sodexo has a taste kitchen that brings in chefs for a week at a time six times a year to develop recipes, alongside a dietitian, that can be blown up or shrunk down. Durbin, a Sudexo chef, attended one of these last year.

"You have to be able to make the necessary adjustments in your recipes," he said.

Winning recipe

Paella de Marisco with Sweet Potato Orzo (4 portions)

20 oz low sodium chicken stock

4 oz sliced Andouille sausage

1 ½ tsp. turmeric

4 oz chicken breast, large dice

1 TB minced garlic

4 oz raw shrimp

2 TB olive oil

4 oz raw calamari

1 medium diced red onion

2 cups diced fresh tomatoes

1 red pepper, diced large

2 oz frozen peas

1 orange pepper, diced large

2 oz shredded Parmesan

1 yellow pepper, diced large

chopped cilantro

4 oz orzo/2 oz sweet potato orzo

8 oz baby spinach

Bring stock to low simmer, add turmeric and hold at low simmer.

In large skillet add olive oil, garlic, onion and peppers; sauté for one minute.

Add chicken and sausage and continue to stir for one minute.

Add orzo and two ladles of hot chicken stock.

Stir until stock is mostly absorbed and continue to add stock two ladles at a time while stirring.

When orzo is at al dente stage, add calamari, shrimp, tomatoes and peas and stir for two minutes.

Allow to stand warm for 2 minutes and garnish with Parmesan crisp and fresh chopped cilantro.

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