Food Day + Hospital Food Service

Last week, Monday, October 24, was the “first” annual Food Day.  In case you didn’t hear, Food Day (sponsored by CSPI) is meant for everyone who eats, and the purpose is “to push for healthy, affordable food produced in a sustainable, humane way.”  Institutions across the country changed their menus for the day, and special speakers and events were scheduled in most major cities.

At the hospital I am interning at, there were a few special events – a local CSA had a table in the cafeteria, with a beautiful display of produce and encouraging people to sign up. There were special menu items, featuring more whole foods/meatless options (more than normal Mondays).  This hospital already practices “mostly” Meatless Mondays, meaning that the hot entrees are all vegetarian, and all specials (pizza, grill) are vegetarian.  The “standard” items at the grill/sandwich bar/etc are still present, but there are many more vegetarian options.

But then…on Tuesday, everything went back to “normal.”  How do we make the principles of Food Day a daily change versus an annual (or weekly, if Meatless Monday is observed) event?  In other words, how does a conscientious eating pattern become normalized?  And how does one encourage people to make changes at home?

During the past few months, I have been wondering about the role of hospital food service in promoting long-term healthy eating.  I recognize that many of the patients who are in the hospital are having trouble keeping their weight stable (e.g. they have unintentionally lost 50# in the past 1-2 months due to failure to thrive/cancer/etc) and many times are malnourished. I’m all for pushing the Scandishakes (900 kcal!) and Ensure to these patients, because of the caloric density and improved outcomes for the patient if they don’t keep losing weight.  But…what about the standard meals offered?  The “regular”/standard menu has an average of 4g of sodium/day, which is much higher than the recommended 1.5-2g sodium/day.  How do you balance making sure people eat when they are very ill, and providing the healthiest meals possible?  And how does one do this in mass production?

Patients at this hospital can typically eat a very balanced diet according to the Plate Method (half plate veggies, one-fourth protein source, one-fourth whole grains) if they make the proper menu selections. When I was entering in the menus, however, many of the patients were not doing that – most were not selecting vegetables, and most opted for the cake/pie (in the hospital’s defense, the dessert slice is literally about 3 bites) instead of the fresh fruit for dessert. The MyPlate image is even printed on the paper menus!  And for the pediatrics floors — is it okay to have hamburgers/french fries/hot dogs/chips/soda/etc on the menu, if it ensures that kids (who, remember, are in the hospital because they are very ill) are eating?  Is this making the assumption that kids will not eat healthier alternatives?

What are your thoughts?  Did you do anything to celebrate Food Day?

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Soda Ban Denied

Have you read this article from the NY Times yet?  “US Rejects Mayor’s Plan to Ban Use of Food Stamps to Buy Soda” — http://nyti.ms/pG4X22

NYC Mayor Bloomberg had proposed not allowing soda/sugary drinks to be purchased with SNAP (food stamp) money due to obesity concerns for a two-year experiment.  The USDA, however, said that this would be too complex, and denied the proposal.

What do you think about this decision?  It’s definitely a very complex issue.  I think everyone can agree that the obesity epidemic is getting way out of hand — but now it’s a matter of how to best proceed.

I (Tina) have consistently sided with Joel Berg’s argument (in article) that “Instead of restricting the dietary choices of low-income residents, he said, city officials should reconsider how to increase the purchasing power of low-income residents so that they can buy food that is more nutritious.”  But how can this be done?  Is it realistic?  (Farm Bill 2012!)

At the same time, though, I don’t know how ethical it is on the part of the nation to use government dollars to support the purchase of soda/sugary drinks/other foods that contribute to obesity.  The USDA is really in a tough spot, because even if they did choose to limit the purchases of soda with SNAP dollars, the food industry would start fighting over the definition of “sugary drinks” (no 100% orange juice?).  Is this realistic?

“Healthier” Happy Meals

Many apologies for the lack of updates!  Both of our personal lives have been quite crazy lately, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t new food news!

Michele will be blogging about gluten-free labeling laws and the Salmonella tainted-ground turkey incidents in the near future, so please be looking out for those!

I was going to write about McDonald’s (and other fast food chains) decisions to make “healthier” happy meals.  In case you haven’t heard, McDonald’s recently declared that each happy meal will now come with 1/4 cup of apple slices, 1 ounce less fries, the option of low-fat milk (or soda) and the same hamburger/cheeseburger/mc nuggets entree.

At first glance, I was excited for this small change!  But then, after thinking about it some more, and reading articles by Bellatti, Nestle, and Simon, I have different thoughts:

1. 1/4 cup of apple slices is realistically probably just 2-3 small slices.  That’s really not much.  And, the default drink is still soda, not milk.

2. I think Michele Simon said it best: “McDonald’s ultimate goal is to make as little change as possible to get media attention (and praise from the likes of the first lady), while distracting policymakers from doing its job setting the boundaries of corporate behavior.”

3.  Bellatti also reminds us that it’s easy to get caught up in reduction of bad things — like less trans fat or salt, for example — but forget the importance of eating good things like fiber, potassium, etc.

What are your thoughts on McDonald’s new happy meal?  Should we support the small changes, in the hopes that will encourage larger changes in the future?

Did you know…

…that if you’re an ADA member, you can subscribe to the Daily ADA Knowledge Center emails?  They’re a fantastic way to quickly view the headlines of new food and nutrition news, read about latest research publications, and see how different ways that RDs are involved in the food world.  I don’t usually have time to read all the articles, of course, but they are all about hot topics in our field.

Log on to eatright.org
At the bottom of the page, click on the E-Newsletters icon (under “Stay Connected”) –> Manage Your Subscriptions
Subscribe to “Daily News”

Now, I know the American Dietetic Association often has a bad reputation because they receive corporate funding from organizations like Coca-Cola.  However, I believe it is very important to be part of the ADA if one is an RD/soon-to-be RD because this organization is the one that is working hard to maintain our rights as professionals.  They help to advocate for licensing laws (California and Washington, in particular, are currently working on this!), work with public policy groups, and so much more.  Even though we may not directly see the impact of the ADA in our day-to-day life, this organization is making our jobs as effective and valued as possible.

If you are a dietetic student or an RD: Are you a member of the ADA?  Why or why not?
And for everyone: What are your thoughts about the ADA, particularly regarding corporate sponsorships?