By Christine Kasum Sexton, MPH
Wendy Rice is a dietitian who works for Advanced Health Care, which operates short-stay rehabilitation centers in six states. She recently shared with me a little bit about how their facilities accommodate their vegetarian and vegan clients.
Advanced Health Care (AHC) operates 11 locations in six states: Idaho, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada. Residents are generally between hospital and home, and needing physical therapy or other types of rehabilitative services. Many have suffered heart attacks or strokes, and need further care before returning home. Rice is in charge of menu development for all locations. Her menus rotate on a 4-week cycle, and guests are able to select items from the menu as they would in a restaurant. AHC hires trained chefs at all locations, and menu items are prepared from scratch. According to Rice, they usually have at least one vegetarian client each month at each site, and occasionally have vegan clients as well.
There are a variety of vegetarian and vegan options always available for breakfast, including cereals, bagels, English muffins, fresh fruits, oatmeal, egg-bakes, and hash-brown potatoes. For lunch and dinner, most of the entrees are meat- or fish-based, but alternatives are always available. Vegetarian options include cottage cheese, pear-gorgonzola salad, quesadillas, and macaroni-and-cheese, buttered Italian green beans, and broccoli parmesan. Vegan options include soups made with vegetable broths, a variety of sandwiches, oriental salad, herbed potatoes, seasoned carrots, seasoned baked potatoes, marinated bean salad, garden salad, baked yams, pineapple-spinach salad, cucumber-onion salad, and cabbage and fruit slaw. Two vegetarian dinner items occasionally on Rice’s menu are eggplant parmesan and vegetable lasagna, both of which can be made vegan on request. In addition to dairy milk, all of the sites also offer soy, rice and almond milks, which are popular with non-vegetarian guests in addition to those that are vegetarian or vegan.
According to Rice, her staff is willing to make vegetarian or vegan adaptations to entrees for anyone who requests it, or whose doctor has requested it. Since their menu items are prepared from scratch, Rice says that they are more easily able to modify dishes to be vegetarian or vegan than if they were purchasing pre-prepared foods. She feels that her chefs enjoy the challenge of modifying dishes to suit patient needs and preferences. They are trained chefs, and enjoy having the opportunity to use their skills to meet their clients’ needs. Rice also states that, overall, all of AHC’s sites have very positive environments, where staff and clients are hopeful and upbeat about the prospect of rehabilitation; Rice believes that this positive environment spills over into the kitchen, where the chefs too want to be part of the recovery process.
Rice has not encountered any problems with providing vegetarian and vegan options at any of the sites. Most of the ingredients are purchased from large food distributors, although she does have the freedom and flexibility to buy small amounts of ingredients from local grocery stores when they need to accommodate one or two vegetarian or vegan clients. Food quality is Rice’s biggest concern when it comes to purchasing, and she is grateful that her food budget allows her the flexibility to focus on obtaining the best ingredients from her sources. AHC’s Albuquerque location is fortunate to have its own garden, the produce from which it uses to prepare client meals. The chefs at the Albuquerque location also produce fresh breads from scratch.
When I asked Rice if there were any resources that she thought would be useful to other foodservices seeking to include more vegetarian or vegan options, she said that she would like to see some type of short course for chefs about cooking vegetarian and vegan foods. In addition, she would like to see more hospitals and other care facilities move away from serving frozen “heat-and-eat” foods, which are often not the healthiest, to serving more healthy, fresh, home-made options. According to Rice, “hospitals and care facilities should be the places where wellness starts!”
For more information about Advanced Health Care, see: http://www.ahcfacilities.com/about/what_we_do