« February 2008 Table of Contents
Seafood is increasingly popular on healthcare facility
By Lauren Kramer
February 01, 2008
Historically, hospital food probably ranks as high as
airline food does in terms of customer satisfaction. But at
Consorta's National Battle of the Hospital Chefs in September
it was evident that despite the stigma, hospital food can
indeed be high caliber, rivaling even that served in
All three of the winning chefs served a seafood entrée in
the competition. The winner, chef William Read of Saint Mary's
Health Care in Grand Rapids, Mich., earned the Gold Chef Award
for his macadamia-crusted tilapia with sweet soy reduction.
"Hospital food isn't what it once was," says Read. "Seafood
is an attractive option to patients because not only can it be
prepared in so many different ways, but it can also easily and
inexpensively be 'gourmet-ified,' giving patients a truly
satisfying meal. And with its increased nutrients and low fat
and cholesterol levels, it helps in the healing process."
Mark Abbott, general manager and chef at St. Mary's Health
Care System in Athens, Ga., agrees. "Seafood is about one-third
of the offerings on our At Your Request room-service menu, and
more and more, the perception from our customers is that it's a
healthier alternative to other proteins," he says.
St. Mary's prepares 1,200 meals daily for the hospital and
an assisted-living community. Abbott won the silver award in
the Hospital Chef competition for his Honey-Lime Grilled
Grouper and Shrimp with Watermelon Salsa. The hospital's weekly
menu features a rotating selection of steamed fish fillets with
different seasonings, popcorn shrimp, fish sandwiches and
The At Your Request menu reduces shrink as patients order
precisely what they want and are guaranteed delivery within 45
minutes. Patients select their preferences from the menu and
call in their order, which must comply with their dietary
restrictions. By contrast, traditional hospitals forecast meals
that can be accurate but allow for an extra amount.
"Patients with special diets can only order the things that
are within the boundaries of their doctors' orders," explains
Abbott. "It's educational for the patient, because they have a
restaurant-style menu in their hands, and our hope is that
they'll remember what they can and cannot have the next time
they dine out."
At Your Request is the brainchild of Sodexho, an
international provider of onsite food and facilities management
services to corporations, healthcare, long-term care and
retirement centers, among other institutions.
"We started the concept of room service in hospitals about
10 years ago," says David Martin, senior director of culinary
services at Sodexho, based in Gaithersburg, Md. "It's only
offered in about 300 of the 900 acute-care hospitals we
service, but once the system is in place, the food cost for
that hospital usually improves because we're cooking only what
the patient wants."
Martin, who began in the hospital foodservice industry 25
years ago, recalls a time when the menu only referred to
"fish," but never what species, and was offered once a week, at
"Orange roughy was big for a long time, and later cod. Now,
we're inundating our hospitals with tilapia, but through all
that, salmon has been our main staple and one of our better
performers," says Martin.
Seafood now appears a minimum of three days a week on
Sodexho's Better By Design national retail menu for healthcare
"I have three facilities in Nashville, Tenn., where they
feature a seafood entrée every single day," says Martin. "That
surprises me because it's a landlocked state, but they eat an
amazing amount of fish in that system."
Martin has witnessed seafood becoming more popular than pork
at Sodexho's hospital accounts.
"We're really selling a great deal more seafood because the
hospitals will pay the price for mahimahi, or whatever species
or method of preparation we're selling. They won't pay the
price for a good steak, but they will pay the price for a good
seafood dish. They view it as a wellness item and they can't
get enough of it."
Prices vary on a regional basis, but according to Martin,
the range for a patient meal is between $1.35 and $2.25 with an
average of $1.75.
At New York University Medical Center, seafood items
constitute one-quarter of the patients' menu and one-third of
the entrées in the two cafeterias.
"Half of the entrées chosen in catering are fish items,"
says Orlando Ramos, executive chef of production. "These items
are more upscale and include fillet of sole, shrimp, scallop,
caviar, lobster or whatever the client wants and is in their
budget. The challenge for us is to find the right balance of
cost and flavor, as some items you can buy frozen without
sacrificing taste or quality, while in others, only fresh will
David Rensi, executive chef at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in
Ann Arbor, Mich., has seen the hospital's seafood usage triple
in the three years he's been there. Rensi and his team prepare
3,000 meals daily, with a patient menu featuring Sesame Maple
Salmon, Olive Oil and Tomato Glazed Salmon, Tilapia with a
Parmesan Herb Crust and Pan-Fried Catfish in a Cornmeal
"The whole 'super foods' movement is very much alive in
hospitals due, in part, to dieticians on staff and to more
educated customers," says Rensi. "In our recent super foods
week in the cafeteria, salmon was the No. 1 seller. I think the
increased quantities of seafood on our menus are due to demand,
thanks to the health benefits of seafood, and also due to the
unique things we're doing with this protein."
Contributing Editor Lauren Kra m er lives in British