Pinehurst, N.C. — Some people say the best incentive to get out of the hospital is the food. However, some hospitals have begun dishing out near-gourmet, healthy meals around the clock.
In October, First Health Moore Regional in Pinehurst started pricing meals in order to encourage diners to get the most health benefit out of the hospital cafeteria. Nearly 90 percent of the cafeteria's customers are hospital staffers.
Hospital employee Linda Cooke said she and other workers typically get half an hour for lunch, so that cafeteria is often their best option "to get something tasty, that's affordable and within the time limit that we have."
Hospital administrators adjusted food prices to encourage people to eat the healthiest options. For example, diet sodas are cheaper than regular sodas, and baked chips cost less than regular chips.
The arrangement of foods in the vending machine was switched around, making people bend to get pricier cookies. Healthier options were placed higher up.
Healthier items were also added to the menu, including fat-free and low cholesterol eggs, turkey sausage and turkey bacon. Options like grilled salmon are growing in popularity since they decreased in price.
In response, hospital officials said they have seen buying habits change. While purchases between diet and regular sodas were once evenly split, 20 percent customers now opt to buy diet sodas.
"We've reduced our use of bacon by about 2,500 slices in a month," Gary O'Neill, in the hospital's food and nutrition services, said. "And our orders of French fries dropped by over 1,200 in the same month."
Cooke said she enjoys adding the salmon to her salad. "And it's still affordable, what you'd want to pay for lunch," she added.
Thomas Halloran, a hospital employee, said he has lost 20 pounds.
"Mostly, I can attribute from the cafeteria and changing my lifestyle outside of the department," Halloran said.
First Health Moore Regional also offers its employees the First Fit program, with incentives for exercising, as well as healthier eating.
Employees said that not all their eating habits have been changed at once.
"I can't completely give up sweet tea or French fries," Cooke said, "but, overall, I'm making more healthy choices."