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Vancouver General Hospital Pioneers New Directions in Hospital Food

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Vancouver General Hospital (VGH) is taking innovative steps to transform hospital meals from bland and basic to diverse and tasty through a new clinical trial. Spearheaded by the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC), the initiative marks a pivotal shift in integrating quality and culture into patient nutrition.

Renowned chef Ned Bell, known for his emphasis on fresh, local ingredients, has teamed up with VGH to overhaul the hospital’s food offerings. This collaboration began after Bell’s personal experience with the hospital during his wife’s cancer treatment highlighted the potential for dietary improvements. The project, termed the “Planetary Health” menu pilot, is championed by Dr. Annie Lalande, surgical resident and PhD student at the University of British Columbia (UBC), and Tiffany Chiang, director of food service transformation at Vancouver Coastal Health.

The pilot program, launched amid the pandemic, aims to cater to the diverse dietary needs of VGH’s patients by introducing more plant-based and globally inspired options. Initial feedback indicated a strong patient desire for meals that not only meet health standards but also reflect a broader range of culinary traditions.

Innovations in the kitchen have led to the development of about 20 new lunch and dinner recipes, with a focus on enhancing flavor, nutritional value, and environmental sustainability. Key changes include substituting beef with turkey or lentils, sourcing ingredients locally to reduce costs, and creating in-house sauces to enrich the food’s appeal.

A particularly transformative aspect of the pilot has been the introduction of garnishes—a simple yet effective way to enhance the visual and taste appeal of meals, traditionally reserved for restaurant dining. This change, alongside the use of fresher ingredients and varied seasonings, has significantly improved patient satisfaction.

The pilot also reflects a shift towards more eco-friendly practices, including the adoption of plant-based proteins which are not only cost-effective but also have a lower environmental impact. Popular dishes such as creamy coconut chickpea curry and steelhead trout with tomato miso dressing have emerged as patient favorites, underscoring the success of the initiative.

Dr. Lalande notes that such comprehensive changes are rare in hospital settings, which often react to immediate needs rather than proactively revamping systems. The RI-MUHC is looking to set a new standard for hospital food across Canada, drawing inspiration from both North American and international health care practices.

As the program continues, the focus remains on creating meals that are healthy, enjoyable, and respectful of cultural diversity and sustainability—truly giving “the planet a seat at the table.” This initiative not only enhances the care environment at VGH but also positions it as a leader in redefining health care nutrition.

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