Web Exclusive

Morrison Healthcare Launches Teaching Kitchen Concept for Hospital Employees

By Leesha Lentz

Morrison Healthcare, a food and nutrition services company catering to hospitals and health systems, has partnered with Truman Medical Centers (TMC) in Kansas City, Missouri, to develop and launch CrEATe, a pilot program whose purpose is to improve the health and wellness of TMC's hospital employees and offer healthful meals to both guests and patients.

The program is offered in a 1,000-sq ft teaching kitchen adjacent to the hospital cafeteria and dining room, where employees, patients, and guests can buy breakfast and lunch. In the afternoon, CrEATe provides classes and demonstrations that revolve around nutritious foods. According to Lynda Donegan, vice president of professional health services at TMC, the space is "designed only to serve healthful food, with an emphasis on low calorie, low fat, and low sodium."

Donegan says TMC serves a disproportionate number of vulnerable populations, especially patients with chronic diseases, such as diabetes, congestive heart failure, and cardiovascular disease, all of which she says are "impacted by diet." These populations may not have access to wholesome foods or know how best to prepare them. "We teach patients about medication, exercise, and their food," she explains. "But in the past, when we've taught patients about food, we viewed videos, used print materials, or even models of food to help them with food preparation. So what's the best way of learning? It's not by watching or reading. It's actually by doing."

Launched in January, CrEATe is still in its infancy, which means that classes currently are offered only to TMC employees serving as the pilot group. However, it's expected to evolve into firsthand education for TMC patients and guests in the surrounding community. "We felt that one of the first steps was to educate our employees," says Dawn Ropson, regional director of operations at Morrison. "Employees are the ones obviously working with our patients on a day-to-day basis, and they need to understand how to eat more healthfully and how easy it can be."

Employees are invited to attend class every Wednesday afternoon at no cost. Ropson says these classes educate employees about ingredients, where they're sourced and where to purchase them at an affordable cost, and how best to prepare them for a healthful meal or snack. For example, chefs and dietitians have demonstrated how to prepare chicken tacos in a crockpot and taught a lesson on how to make fruit smoothies with ice rather than juice to lower the calorie and sugar content, Donegan says. Employees get to sample the foods as well as purchase the ingredients at minimal cost to prepare the foods at home for their families.

Positive Feedback
Donegan and Ropson say one of the most important aspects of CrEATe is bringing the team from the kitchens out into the forefront. "The piece of CrEATe that I really like is that we've brought our key educators and motivators from the back of the house to the front of the house," Donegan says. "Those are our chefs and dietitians. We're no longer as dependent on the nurse or the physician; we're really leveraging the talent of people with the education, training, and passion."

Due to popular demand, TMC is redesigning its website to include videos and recipes from the cooking lessons, Donegan says, noting that she often gets asked about extending the program so that the classes are offered more than once a week, which is why there's interest in including the information online, where it can be easily accessed.

With such positive employee feedback, it's hoped that the program will expand to include community engagement, as well as more physician participation. Ropson says the next stage will be marketing and getting the information about the program's offerings out into the community. "The final stage, which we already have been working on behind the scenes, is getting a physician engaged with the program and participating and communicating with patients, dietitians, and chefs," she says. "Physicians can explain the benefits of eating more healthfully in the long term and how it can help with [patients'] own personal health and possibly prevent chronic disease. It's going to evolve into getting a physician champion involved."

Donegan also says more patient participation is key in future planning. "We really want to have patients experience CrEATe during their inpatient stay, if possible," she says. "We want to partner this CrEATe visit with the clinic visit. We want to try to make it very convenient for patients. So when they come to spend part of their day with Truman Medical Center, we would like part of it to be with the dietitian and have patients actually watching the production and enjoying how these foods taste."

— Leesha Lentz is a freelance writer based in Pottstown, Pennsylvania.