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Food is medicine: Pilot menu supports patients recovery and the planet

Planetary Health Menu -- Steelhead Trout with Tomato Miso Dressing. Credit Leila Kwok

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Original story posted on oneVCH (internal newsletter) by Vancouver Coastal Health Communications.

In the busy kitchens of Vancouver General Hospital (VGH), transformation is underway, the focus of which is to improve patient nutrition and experience, while at the same time reducing our impact on the environment.

“Food is a critical part of recovery and healing for patients, and also has an impact on the health of our planet,” says Elaine Eppler, a Registered Dietitian and member of the project team.

Over the past six months, inpatients receiving care at VGH have been able to fuel their healing with a diverse selection of new delicious, nutritious and environmentally sustainable menu items, thanks to a Planetary Health Menu Pilot project.

The new Planetary Health Menu offers meals that are rich in protein and other essential nutrients, all vital to prevent and treat malnutrition, and facilitate the healing process. The menu also has a smaller carbon footprint,” says Eppler.

Dietitians and speech language pathologists were involved in decisions about how dishes were developed and improved, ensuring they met all the nutritional requirements that patients need while recovering in hospital. The project team also hosted tasting and feedback sessions early on in the project to get input from patient partners and staff on which recipes they would like to see on the menu.

VCH is working to increase patient satisfaction, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and food waste while improving patient nutrition during their hospital stay. This project aligns with VCH’s planetary health pillar, which acknowledges the relationship between healthy people and a healthy environment.

More than 20 new menu items offered patients a diversity of choices, incorporating patient preferences and ingredients with lower environmental impacts, such as plant-based proteins and lower-impact animal proteins. These include dishes such as Creamy Coconut Chickpea Curry with Cauliflower and Cashews, served with Mango Chutney, Steelhead Trout with Tomato Miso Dressing, and a Korean Gochujang Bowl.

Korean Gochujang Bowl. Credit Leila Kwok
Thai Noodle Bowl. Credit Leila Kwok

At the heart of this endeavor was a diverse team united by two common goals: to transform the patient experience and reduce our environmental impact through food. Led by Dr. Annie Lalande, surgical resident and PhD student in Resources, Environment and Sustainability at University of British Columbia (UBC), and Tiffany Chiang, Director, Food Transformation and Strategic Projects at VCH, the team included; food services staff, dietitians, clinicians, planetary health experts, and renowned Chef Ned Bell. Each member played a crucial role in helping to rethink how we nourishes patients.

The Planetary Health Menu Pilot recently concluded.  Feedback and information about which items were most popular will be used to inform new menus going forward.

Thank you to all staff and medical staff who informed our pilot and help to promote the new offers to patients.​

This is the first project funded by the Vancouver Coastal Health Boehringer Ingelheim Collaboration (VCH-BI), a partnership announced in 2023 that provides flexible seed funding for innovation initiatives in the areas of planetary health, Indigenous health and chronic disease, and supported by the VGH + UBC Hospital Foundation. This project was also supported by Greener By Default, who worked in collaboration with the project team on menu consultation, education and evaluation. As participants in Nourish​’s second Anchor Cohort during the development of this pilot project, VCH became early adopters of their Planetary Health Menu Program.