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Nutrition and wellness at work and home

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Posted: Thursday, May 1, 2014 8:19 am | Updated: 10:39 am, Thu May 1, 2014.

Providing healthier choices is taking place in the restaurants,  at home, and the workplace as well.

At the BJC Employee Wellness Summit, held April 10-11 at the BJC Learning Institute in St. Louis, businesses from across the nation learned from experts about the importance of employee wellness programs to their workers’ health and to the bottom line.

“The business model of health care is changing,” Kelvin Westbrook, chairman of the BJC HealthCare board of directors, said, “moving from a model that’s primarily been focused on treatment to a model that is focused on improving the health of the community in a more sustainable way.”

Westbrook said that means more accountability, more participants and looking for ways to engage them in what they think is a large source of the challenges.

“There are a number of diseases that are associated with lifestyle choices around food or around activity, and trying to find a way to change behaviors and engage those who might be in a better position to impress upon individuals the need to change behaviors is what this summit is all about,” Westbrook said.

At the summit’s Food as Medicine presentation by celebrity Chef Cary Neff, business owners and managers learned how his company offers healthier choices that can reduce the obesity epidemic and cut down employee health care costs.

“You can do both. You can make great tasting food that is also good for you,” Neff said.

Neff is vice president of culinary for Atlanta-based Morrison Management Specialists, which provides dining services to BJC and over 800 hospitals and senior living communities. Neff, executive chef and president of Pear Restaurant Group, is author of Conscious Cuisine, which offers recipes using grains, vegetables, legumes and fruits to create satisfying, nutritious and tasteful meals.

Neff said such presentations make a difference internally and externally.

“Internally for our staff in realizing the value that they have and the importance of their job, and externally to change the culture for everyone’s benefit – first within their families and within the organization they are working and within the communities in which we live,” Neff described. “As we are able to influence these experiences, then we have the best opportunity to influence their beliefs and in changing their beliefs.”

Why is this important?

“Because the belief that most people have is if it’s good for you, therefore it doesn’t taste good,” Neff said.

Bottom line: You can cook healthy and keep it tasty.

Neff offers the American readers a few tips for healthy eating, starting with cooking preparation. Ready to grease up the skillet? Spritzing has its own lighter, healthier flavor.

“I arm my staff with spray bottles of oil. It’s 75 percent canola oil and 25 percent olive oil. It gives it more flavor, but it has a higher burning point,” Neff said. “So now, they are misting a pan, rather than adding the butter.”

He also buys two types of olive oil; one for cooking; and the more expensive extra virgin olive oil for dressing salads and vegetables.

From skillet to plate, portion control and wholesome items are the main course.

“The lifestyle and the habits of which we were raised – that we have to eat everything on your plate, this makes the majority of those things whole grains and fruits and vegetables, and the least amount is the protein,” Neff said. “It’s more affordable and it also provides you a balance in nutrition.”

For most people, you do not have to give up dessert altogether- just make smarter and smaller choices.

“The easiest fix is don’t change the recipe,” Neff said.  While he could offer more health conscious versions using Splenda, agave, chickpea flour, and the like, you could make your favorite dessert using traditional methods and ingredients – just serve it sparingly.  

“Now just put it in a small shot glass. And now I have a taste, and I got my ‘fix’, but I don’t have the larger portion that I had before,” Neff said.

He said those items have provided them with the greatest amount of results, because it is doable. Everyone can eat small portions. 

Smoothing out the textures of grains by blending them together and hiding them in cupcakes and other desserts is a way to add a healthier punch to a favorite sweet treat. Attendees were surprised to learn the mini chocolate cupcakes prepared for them contained black beans.

“The answer to that is really the stealth approach,” Neff said. “I use those types of tools to puree or juicing of the ingredients so they are not aware those ingredients are inside. They are getting it.”

The healthy choice does not have to be the tasteless choice.

Follow this reporter on Twitter @YrHealthMatters.

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