Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Veggie Queen Revamps Kaiser Permanente Cafeteria

For just over 7 months in 2006 I worked as a consultant on the Healthy Cafeteria Innovation Project at Kaiser Permanente in Santa Rosa, CA. It was an exciting challenge to take a mostly burgers, fries and grilled cheese type cafeteria and turn it into a place where I could actually go to eat.

Working with a small group of Kaiser employees, we implemented changes that will hopefully change the state of health of the hospital and medical center staff. It will not as greatly effect the health of patients' families and other hospital visitors but hopefully the changes will not go unnoticed.

Our first step was upgrading the salad bar to contain local, organic and sustainable greens such as spring mix, romaine lettuce and spinach. Gone was the iceberg lettuce. Other local, organic veggies were also included when in season. We switched the salad dressings from commercial to lower fat and fat-free made in-house. New toppings such as ground flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, nutritional yeast and more appeared. Unfortunately, these changes resulted in a price increase but not so much that people stopped eating salad. Still, this created a bit of an uproar because we removed the cheese and bacon bits --uh oh.

The next phase was when most of the change occured. The cafeteria started offering vegan hot specials three days each week. The soup base was switched to a clean product which was often vegetarian. The bread went from white to organic whole grain (Alvarado Street Bakery) and the tortillas for wraps are whole grain, too. Sandwich fillings changed to the "healthiest" turkey, lower fat cheese, tofu salad and other veggie fillings. Burger buns went whole wheat, and the burgers (while still there -- sigh) got an upgrade to organic and grass-fed. This time the changes and their resulting waves (or is that a riptide?), were felt and heard about far and wide. There was an audible buzz.

And as usual, those who make the most noise appear to be in the majority but that's only because they are louder. We heard lots of comments, both positive and negative. And I felt really good about the changes that we made.

Although I am no longer doing this work, I hope to resume later this year. Just imagine healthy food in a cafeteria. Or if you happen to be in Santa Rosa, stop by the Kaiser cafeteria and you can experience it.

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