For many Pittsburgers, the beginning of March signals one thing: the end of winter. In March, the first signs of spring pop up throughout our communities. Springtime is the perfect time to focus on your health and wellness. Cabin fever and warmer weather make a persuasive argument for getting outside to take a walk or ride a bike. Another way to focus on health this month is by celebrating National Nutrition Month. Each March, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics uses National Nutrition Month to remind people of the importance of making informed food choices and developing healthy habits. Maintaining a healthy diet combats the risk of chronic diseases, like diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and stroke.
One of the largest employers in Pennsylvania, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) celebrates National Nutrition Month year-round through their wellness initiatives. Live Well Allegheny Restaurants, which includes the Cafeteria at Magee-Womens Hospital, the Food and Nutrition Department at UPMC Mercy, and the Food and Nutrition Department at UPMC Presbyterian, are taking health and wellness to the next level. For the three restaurants, joining Live Well Allegheny was a jumping off point for a myriad of wellness initiatives that work towards improving health of employees and hospital visitors.
The health and wellness initiatives at the Cafeteria at Magee-Womens Hospital are not only focused on providing more nutritious options to employees and visitors, but are also using nutrition as a tool for fighting cancer and other chronic diseases. Chefs and dieticians have joined forces to provide employees and visitors with nutrition education that is proven to prevent and treat chronic diseases. One example is the hospital’s oncology cooking demonstrations. Once a month, chefs and dieticians emphasize the benefits of plant-based diet on preventing and treating cancer. The oncology cooking demos provide nutrition education, skills-based information, and taste-testing of plant-based meals. In addition to receiving nutrition education and resources, employees and visitors are also educated on the cooking skills that are necessary for at-home meal preparation, making the demos accessible for all people.
The hospital also emphasizes national health observances by promoting disease-fighting nutrition aimed at specific chronic illnesses. For instance, in February, the Cafeteria at Magee-Womens Hospital celebrated American Heart Month to raise awareness about prevention of heart disease, hypertension or high blood pressure, and other cardiovascular diseases. The heart health theme was emphasized during a coffee and dark chocolate pairing on February 14th that educated employees and visitors on the benefits of dark chocolate in maintaining a heart healthy lifestyle.
The Food and Nutrition Department at UPMC Mercy is also taking steps towards improving health and wellness in our communities. At UPMC Mercy, the Food and Nutrition Department works to improve the health of employees and visitors with healthy food options, health coaches, and cooking demonstrations. The chefs provide nutritious foods with dining smart items, a nutritious entrée paired with vegetables and a starch, as well as a new salad bar. Additionally, health coaches are available outside of the cafeteria for employees and visitors to consult about a variety of wellness topics, such as nutrition education, stress management, and physical activity.
The Food and Nutrition Department at UPMC Mercy also hosts cooking demonstrations to provide employees and visitors with nutrition and skills-based education. Like the Cafeteria at Magee-Womens Hospital, the Food and Nutrition Department at UPMC Mercy emphasized American Heart Month during their February cooking demonstration. Held at the UPMC Greentree Outpatient Cardiac Center on February 12th, the chefs and dietician emphasized the importance of incorporating whole grains in your diet to maintain heart health during the demonstration. The dietician broke down myths about carbohydrates, and provided helpful insight into healthy grains versus unhealthy grains for the employees and visitors. Chefs demonstrated ways to incorporate whole grains for breakfast and lunch with recipes for overnight oats and salads teaching attendees how to make delicious meals with healthy grains. Demo attendees were also encouraged to make their own overnight oats to take home for breakfast the next day.
Last, but not least, the Food and Nutrition Department at UPMC Presbyterian ensures that the cafeteria is the wellness hub for the hospital by providing nutritious options including vegetarian and vegan fare, health and wellness information, and wellness programming. A priority of the department, employees and visitors can take advantage of an extensive salad bar that was recently renovated, offering a variety of fresh produce. The cafeteria has also increased vegetarian and vegan options by 30 percent, and offers at least one veg-friendly soup every day. The cafeteria’s wellness wall is a one-stop-shop for employees and visitors to get resources about health-related activities at the hospital, such as the employee weight race.
The department also offers wellness programming for employees and visitors to receive resources for preparing health meals at home. Wellness Wednesday is an interactive health presentation that involves nutrition education and cooking demonstrations once per month. A chef and dietician provide the audience with tips and tricks to incorporating healthy foods into their diets in accessible ways. The Wellness Wednesday on February 14th celebrated American Heart Month by featuring healthier desserts, heart healthy recipes, and health screenings with recipes for tofu chocolate mousse and chocolate “nana” ice cream. The recipes demonstrated ways to transform traditionally unhealthy foods into healthier options with minor ingredient substitutions. Attendees and passersby had the opportunity to sample the recipes, and get recipe cards to make the foods at home. The Food and Nutrition Department also partnered with the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute to provide a variety of health screenings, including blood pressure screenings, for employees and visitors. In addition to focusing on human health, UPMC Presbyterian has also focused on the health of the environment by going Styrofoam-free. Switching to recyclable containers has allowed the cafeteria to reduce waste and its ecological footprint.