Local Foods in Healthcare: Promoting a Stronger Community

Maintaining health and well-being is a main goal of hospitals and long-term care homes.  Incorporating local foods into healthcare institution menus not only aligns with this mission remarkably but can lead to healthier patients and communities.

Benefits of Local Food Use in Healthcare Institutions

There are lots of benefits to using local foods on the menu in hospitals and long-term care homes. Here are just a few:

          Increased patient satisfaction and nutrition

Studies show that patients are pleased to hear that the ingredients for their meal came from a local farm, and this can have a positive effect on comfort and meal satisfaction ratings.1

Local foods can also provide better nutrition for patients as they are more likely to be fresh. Better nutrition can lead to quicker recovery rates and shorter hospital stays, which can lessen the burden on healthcare systems.

          Stronger support for the provincial economy

Buying local food for healthcare institutions means more business for local food producers and farmers.  It also strengthens relationships between managers in healthcare and local farmers, uniting our community.

          Smaller carbon footprint

Food travels a shorter distance when obtained locally, which reduces fuel use, carbon emissions, and pollution during transport.

 Strategies for Successful Local Food Use

Now that we know why local foods are a great component of healthcare menus, what is being done to encourage and increase local food use in our institutions?

In a 2018 study, Emily Linton and colleagues set out to determine key influences and key strategies for successful local food use in Ontario healthcare institutions.2 They interviewed stakeholders from multiple areas of the food system and revealed practical actions that helped healthcare institutions get more local foods into patient meals.

Here are a few strategies they found were key to success:

          Local food lists

If you were a food service manager looking to purchase local food for the hospital, wouldn’t it be easier if you had a list clearly indicating available local foods?

This is the role of a local food list—to group foods grown or produced in Ontario, all in one place.  Hospitals and long-term care homes can ask their group purchasing organizations (the organizations through which they buy their food items) to update their food product list to include local foods.

          Local frozen produce

Local produce availability can change with the season, but many healthcare institution menus do not.  One solution is local frozen produce, which is available year-round.

           Using in-season produce

Another solution is using produce that is in season, as it often comes at a lower cost.

 Success in the Field: Mount Hope Centre for Long Term Care

Local food is being used by healthcare institutions right here in London!

One institution helping set the example is Mount Hope Centre for Long Term Care.  They buy fresh, in-season produce from local farmers including sweet corn, field tomatoes, and peaches.  Beef, turkey, bread, eggs, and some dairy products are also purchased locally.

Mount Hope is also partnering with NOURISH, a non-profit organization, on a project to facilitate buying local and managing food waste.

Knowing the benefits, influences, and strategies to implement local food use is crucial for decision-makers in healthcare institutions to accomplish it successfully.  It is important to keep the conversation going to gain new perspectives and innovations to support buying local.

Written by Serenah Jafelice

Painting by Serenah Jafelice

References

  1. Trinca V, Duizer L, Keller H. Putting quality food on the tray: factors associated with patients’ perceptions of the hospital food experience. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2021 Jun 25; 00: 1-13. doi:10.1111/jhn.12929
  2. Linton E, Keller H, Duizer L. Ingredients for success: strategies to support local food use in health care institutions. Can J Diet Pract Res. 2018 Sep 1; 79(3): 113-117. doi:10.3148/cjdpr-2018-008

About the Author:  Serenah Jafelice is a volunteer with the MLFPC. She has a passion for healthy living and volunteers with various community groups and healthcare charities.  She has completed an Honours Specialization in Biology with a Minor in Genetics at Western University.  She is intrigued by the overlap between healthy eating, medicine, and lifestyle.  She loves communicating scientific information in a way that is easy to understand and helps people better their lives.

One Reply to “Local Foods in Healthcare: Promoting a Stronger Community”

  1. Well done. It’s an exciting idea and such a huge benefit to both patients and local farmers!

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