Let’s face it: If you’re visiting someone in the hospital in the evening or waiting for a loved one being cared for in an ER — and you want a snack — you’re limited to using a vending machine. Even if you want to choose a healthy snack in a vending machine, it’s not easy to find one, other than plain water.
Why? Because it’s all about reading the labels that show the amount of sodium, fat, sugar and calories. And there’s no easy way to determine what’s on a nutrition label on a snack or beverage in a vending machine. Until now…
Mercy Health Muskegon has been a pilot location for a healthy snack initiative launched by Trinity Health, parent company of Mercy Health.
For nearly a year registered dietitian Pam Strockis Director of Food and Nutrition, Mercy Health Muskegon, has been working with Trinity Health colleagues and Canteen, the nation’s largest vending machine company, to come up with healthy snack alternatives for Mercy Health along the Lakeshore.*
“The initiative is not meant to restrict people, but to guide them about healthier snacks and to provide healthier choices,” said Strockis,. “It’s about offering more healthy items for patients, colleagues and visitors who use our vending machines.”
Ninety-four percent of adults snack once per day, and more than 50 percent snack two to three times per day, so healthier snack options matter. Snack choices can enhance health or add excessive amounts of empty calories.
“As a health care system, it is important to us to model healthy food choices. We know diet plays a huge role in maintaining a healthier weight and reducing your risk for chronic disease and obesity. We want our facilities to be environments that promote health by offering healthy options that are easy to access,” said Sheryl Lozicki, System Manager Clinical Nutrition & Wellness, Trinity Health.
Finding the right products in the right portion size has been a challenge. Trinity Health has set healthy snack criteria based on research to help guide people to think about their snacks and drinks. Not every machine has a special snack label, but for those that do, 75 percent of their contents follow the snack nutrition guidelines set by Trinity Health:
- ≤ 250 calories
- ≤ 10 g. of fat
- ≤ 3 g. of saturated fat
- No trans fat
- ≤ 250 mg. sodium
- ≤ 20 g. sugar
“We’ve received positive feedback from colleagues,” said Strockis. “Healthier snacks cost more than candy, but our health-conscious colleagues say it’s worth it.” Lozicki is pleased with the results because patients benefit: “Healthier health care workers give better health care.”
Product placement is part of the strategy, too. So find regular pop, diet pop, water and other beverages in a beverage machine, but the healthier beverages are near eye-level and the less healthy offerings are placed below. Items like Pop Tarts and Twinkies are near the bottom of the snack machines, while popcorn and granola-type bars are near eye level.
In the future, Trinity Health plans to offer healthier food choices across the country, whether in vending machines at its hospitals and provider offices, or through its hospital cafeteria menus. It’s one more way that Trinity Health is distinguishing itself among other health care systems.