The food offerings for staff, patients and visitors at children’s hospital restaurants aren’t as healthful as some might hope or expect, new research finds.
A survey of 16 cafeterias and restaurants at 14 pediatric hospitals in California rated the venues according to how much of the food they served qualified as “healthy.” Of the 384 entrees and sandwiches surveyed, only 7 percent counted as healthy.
An entree qualified if it had 800 or fewer calories and and was accompanied by nutrition information; a sandwich could have 650 or fewer calories. Both had to also have 30 percent or fewer calories from fat and 10 percent or fewer calories from saturated fat. Otherwise, entrees counted as healthy if they were labeled by the food venue as a healthy choice. The survey looked at such other aspects of food service as signage promoting healthful eating or discouraging the opposite, the presence of nutrition information and whether it was cheaper to buy a combo meal than to purchase the components separately.
On the plus side, all the food venues sold skim or low-fat milk and diet soda (which I would argue isn’t all that healthful). Ninety-four percent offered fruit, and 75 percent offered salad bars; 75 percent offered vegetables that weren’t fried.
On the other hand, none of the restaurants noted “healthy choices” on their menus (though 25 percent had signs highlighting healthy choices), and fully 50 percent offered no healthy entrees at all.
The study didn’t look at food that was served to patients as part of their care. Lead investigator Lenard Lesser says that researchers tend not to examine that food, because what hospitals serve patients depends on the condition they’re being treated for and other variables.
Lesser says the information gleaned is important because restaurants at children’s hospitals should be “exemplars” of healthy eating — not just for children and their families but for the “thousands of employees across the country” who eat in them.
The study will appear in the January/February issue of the journal Academic Pediatrics.