Healthy Eating Initiatives for Employees: A Conversation with Connie Snider

In February of 2015, Norman Regional Hospital launched the Heart of a Sooner program—a healthy eating initiative aimed at encouraging hospital employees to make smarter meal choices when dining on campus. The program is part of a wider health initiative piloted by a wellness committee comprised of representatives from all hospital departments.

Connie Snider, Dietetic Technician, Registered/Food and Nutrition Services Manager, shares her experience with launching the program and advice for other institutions looking to start similar programs.

The motivation behind Heart of a Sooner

We wanted to be a leader in the community. We wanted, when the patients came in to the hospital, to see in our cafeteria that we were walking the walk. We were doing what we were asking the patients to do. It was important for us to lead and develop nutritional plans that everyone can follow.

A Heart of a Sooner meal

The criteria for the meal is 600 calories or less, less than ten grams of saturated fat, zero grams of trans fat, and 900 milligrams or less of sodium per meal. And then we also wanted the breads and pasta to contain less than 230 milligrams of sodium per serving, and cheese 230 milligrams or less per serving.

Common sense solutions to encourage healthy choices

We also took, and separated, our bread group chips from the baked chips. Oddly enough, when we did that, our sales for the baked chips increased something like 45%–it was just crazy! We moved the donut box from the front of the cafeteria to the end of the cafeteria, and donut sales dropped by 75%. We took the donut box out of our cafeteria because we were not selling enough to justify keeping it there. We then put fresh fruits where the donut box was, and our fruit sales increased by 50%.

Another thing we have recently started was selling water infused with lemon and orange slices in the cafeteria. One month after we began offering the water, our soda sales decreased by 16%. The wellness committee has calendars created every year, and they feature the Heart of a Sooner. We made punch cards, and every time you buy a Heart of a Sooner meal you get your card punched. After ten punches, you are put in a monthly drawing for a prize. This promotion went over really well.

Showing versus telling

Recently we hired a new chef, and we've done some exhibition cooking in the cafeteria with healthy choices. On National Healthy Eating Day we held an event in the cafeteria that we really promoted, and our sales that day were probably 35% more than what they normally would be. In the future, we would like to offer some cooking classes for our employees as well as people in the community.

Advice for other institutions

The approach I took—I'm from Oklahoma, which is very much a meat and potatoes state—was to implement something that didn't initially strike fear in everyone. I don't want to say baby steps, because when we launched it, it was big… it was huge. But I didn't completely take away the fried chicken strips over in the grab-n-go. I didn't take out the fryers and all of that. I just took things step by step and involved people in the changes. That was the key. The wellness committee was made up of so many different departments, so there were a lot of departments that were involved with this process. It wasn't just the nutrition department trying to implement this; it was a team, it was a group of people. And I think that was a big key to our success. We had a lot of support from our department's Director and VP, and that really helped.

Where technology fits into the plan

Well, for us, having the CBORD software, everything that is on our menus has a recipe in the system, so I was able to go into the system, pull up the nutrition information, and print off the labels. It was just as easy as that. When I hear other people talking about implementing a program similar to what we did, managing the recipes is one of their biggest fears, but for us, it was very simple. We just had to go into the CBORD system and print off the labels and it was really easy for the wellness committee to develop the healthy meals. Technology played a big part; it made the entire process very easy.