N.C. Hospitals Compete to Cook Healthy Meal

N.C. Hospitals Compete to Cook Healthy Meal

Shelley Opremcak looked the picture of calm as she poured orange juice into a bowl. Her pears were peeled; the margarine was melted. Just a few more steps, and her “Maple Pears” dessert would be in the oven.

Across the kitchen, Geraldine Best boiled chicken broth for the collard greens. Diane Mobley worked on the jalapeno pork and Pam Phillips stirred a pot of Pumpkin Spice Soup.

This four-woman team from Duplin General Hospital in Kenansville, N.C., had spent weeks perfecting their recipes and timing. But during the “Cut to the Core” culinary event at Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte, “The Duplin Chicks” faced stiff competition from hospital chefs across the state.

“With 101 beds, we’re the smallest hospital in the competition,” said Lucinda Crawford, Duplin’s vice president of finance. “We’re here to show that even small hospitals can make a difference.”

“Cut to the Core,” held in October 2010, celebrated a three-year effort by NC Prevention Partners, the North Carolina Hospital Association and The Duke Endowment to promote healthy cooking and eating in North Carolina’s 127 hospitals.

The Healthy Foods in Hospitals program works to make healthy choices easy through effective marketing techniques (such as pricing, promotion and placement) and consumer education. By the end of 2010, nearly three-quarters of North Carolina hospitals had implemented the required components of the program, achieving the coveted Red Apple designation for their work.

“Hospitals are real leaders in prevention in our state,” said Meg Molloy, the head of NC Prevention Partners. The “Cut to the Core” contest provided an opportunity for them to spread the message to other sectors.

During the competition, which was sanctioned by the American Culinary Federation, teams from seven North Carolina hospitals worked against the clock in Johnson & Wales’ gleaming kitchens.

Every dish in their three-course meals—from the Crab Bisque to the Mocha Mousse Parfaits—had to meet strict dietary standards for calories, total fat, saturated fat, trans fat and sodium. Main dishes, for example, had to stay under 550 calories. Soups couldn’t have more than 800 milligrams of sodium.

While the teams cooked, vendors from Nestle, Hormel and other companies offered samples of their products. Chef Michael Ty, president of the American Culinary Federation, gave a speech about the evolving role of nutrition in the culinary arts. Food Network celebrity Alton Brown spoke on “10 Things I Love About Food.” And Mike Rucker, a former NFL player, talked about wellness. Guests included staff members from schools, long-term care facilities and churches.

Ruth Neaves and Dorothy Eldreth came down from Ashe Memorial Hospital to bring back ideas to their own cafeteria. “We just made it to the Yellow Apple level and we’re working toward the Red Apple,” Ruth said. “We offer low-fat veggies, salads and fruits in season—but we still have a lot of employees who want cheeseburgers and French fries. We’re taking baby steps.”

After the food was boiled and baked, chefs with the American Culinary Federation judged the results. The “Black Hat Chefs,” a combined team from UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill and Rex Health Care in Raleigh, won first place – along with gold medals based on a national rating score. Their menu: Deconstructed Autumn Roll (salad); Fennel Dusted Shrimp with Roasted Tomato Jus, Zucchini Enrobed Quinoa, Butternut and Corn Succotash, and Herbed Pumpkin Seed Pesto (main entrée and sides); and Neapolitan Dessert Sampler.

At the end of the day, all the teams did well, said Anne Thornhill with NC Prevention Partners. “However, the real winners,” she said, “are the employees and visitors to North Carolina hospitals.”

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