University Medical Center at Princeton Signs Healthy Food Pledge

Nov 11, 2010

Places New Emphasis on Local, Nutritious and Sustainable Food

In an effort to raise awareness about healthy food choices and demonstrate its commitment to putting more fresh, local food in the cafeteria and on patient trays, University Medical Center at Princeton (UMCP) has adopted the Healthy Food in Healthcare Pledge, a declaration of support for the use of local, nutritious and sustainable food.

By signing the pledge, UMCP joins a growing list of hospitals around the nation --  some 250 at present, including three others in New Jersey -- that have made a commitment to serving food that is both healthier for people and the environment.

“I think a hospital should set an example,” said UMCP President Mark Jones.  “The food we serve to our patients, our staff and the community should promote good health, and that includes a healthy environment.”

The eight-point Healthy Food in Healthcare Pledge, developed by the non-profit organization Health Care Without Harm, includes a promise to work with local farmers, community-based organizations and food suppliers to increase the availability of locally-sourced food. The hospital also pledges to encourage its food vendors to supply food produced without synthetic pesticides and hormones or antibiotics given to animals in the absence of diagnosed disease. Additional elements of the pledge include commitments to identify and adopt sustainable food procurement practices; minimize food waste; and develop programs that support sustainable and humane agriculture systems.

Even before signing the pledge, UMCP had begun moving to embrace some of its key principles.  In April 2010, UMCP contracted with the health care food service company Morrison Management Service to run its nutrition and dining operation in an effort to improve food quality.  Since then, the hospital has begun featuring healthier dishes with fresher ingredients.

Recent cafeteria offerings included such items as Tofu and Broccoli Stir Fry, Israeli Couscous Salad with Grilled Salmon, and Chicken Kabobs with Quinoa. Cards placed by every entree provide information such as fat, sodium and calorie count.

“Previous menus included many heavy, highly processed foods. Now we’re giving staff and visitors a nice balanced menu, and we’re doing the same for the patients upstairs,” said UMCP Food Service Director Bradley Phillips.

The hospital also began hosting farmers markets and purchasing some of its food from New Jersey farms, a trend Phillips said will increase.

The action by UMCP comes at a time of intensifying focus on the health threat posed by obesity and the food choices that encourage it.  Approximately two-thirds of adults and one in three children are overweight in the United States, putting them at increased risk for diabetes, cardiovascular problems, certain forms of cancer and other chronic diseases.  The federal government’s 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, scheduled for release in December, are expected to identify obesity as America’s number one health threat.