A Veteran at the San Francisco VA Medical Healthcare System (SFVA) recently shared “I have tasted hospital food all over the world and ours is the best! I’m impressed with the quality of the food as well as the diversity of menu items provided. I love that the food is so healthy. I save my meal tickets to show my family. Please give my compliments to the kitchen staff.”
In 2012, to lose the traditional hospital food image, the SFVA rewrote their menu and went back to the basics by cooking recipes from scratch. Veterans had communicated that healthy eating is important to them and that they wanted more fresh and colorful foods plus familiar foods like “grandma used to make.”
As a result, the SFVA hospital menus now emphasize fresh, local and sustainable ingredients with homemade stocks, soups, entrees, vegetables, seasonal fruits and desserts to provide great taste and support each Veteran’s health and recovery. Familiar comfort foods are included in the menu and made carefully with healthful ingredients like grass-fed beef, healthy fats, fresh herbs and seasonings. Menus are moderate in calories and sodium, include more plant-based proteins and fiber, and low in saturated fat and sugar.
The goal with the menu and kitchen makeover was to support the health and wellbeing of Veterans, help them experience healthy eating and meet the requirements of the National Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Healthy food tastes delicious and has the power to heal! For tips on how to make healthy eating work for you, check out this article from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics!
To provide more resources for Veterans when at home, in 2014 SFVA also implemented a Healthy Teaching Kitchen (HTK) Program for outpatients to learn cooking skills and simple ways to eat healthy foods. Graduates of the program say the program taught them new skills, and that they gained confidence with cooking and shopping. Many other VA facilities have HTK programs. Ask your local VA what nutrition programs are available! Ready to start cooking today? Check out the recipes in the VA’s cookbooks, or try the recipe below (a popular menu item at SFVA)!
Red Lentil Chili with Turkey
Portion Size: 8 OZ
|ONIONS, FRESH, DICED
|GARLIC, FRESH, CHOPPED
|TOMATOES, FRESH, MEDIUM
||4 each, diced
|STOCK, CHICKEN, LOW SODIUM
||1 ½ TBSP
|CANNED CHOPPED GREEN CHILIS
|| 1/3 cup
| LENTILS, DRY, RED
|| 2.5 oz
| LEAN TURKEY, GROUND
|| ¾ pounds (12 OZ)
- PLACE LENTILS IN POT. COVER LENTILS WITH WATER TO 1-INCH ABOVE LENTILS AND BOIL UNTIL TENDER. DO NOT OVER COOK.
- BROWN TURKEY IN A PAN. DRAIN EXCESS FAT.
- COMBINE TURKEY, SPICES, TOMATOES, STOCK, TOMATO PASTE AND PEPPERS IN PAN. SIMMER 20 MINUTES AND TASTE. ADD ADDITIONAL CHILI POWDER IF DESIRED.
- STIR IN COOKED LENTILS.
- SERVE IN BOWL, GARNISH WITH SOUR CREAM, SHREDDED CHEESE, OR CHOPPED GREEN ONION.
Nutritional Analysis Per Serving
Calories: 162, Protein: 13.4 grams, Carbohydrates: 12.8 grams, Fiber: 4.2 grams, Fat 7.9 grams, Sodium: 298 mg
Karen Arnold, a registered dietitian nutritionist and retired Army Veteran, joined VA 28 years ago to serve her fellow Veterans. She currently serves as the chief of Nutrition and Food Services at the San Francisco VA Healthcare System. Arnold actively promotes wellness and supports preventive health care services along with sustainable food service operations. She loves to cook and looks forward to Sunday family dinners with her husband, adult children and grand kids to spend time together while enjoying a homemade meal!