Riverside Cafe Make-over Promotes Healthy Eating

The Riverside Medical Center Café is aiming to help make employees, staff, doctors and visitors healthier, one meal at a time.

Recently the café revamped its menu options – from main dishes to condiments and snacks – and has implemented a color-code process used at all ThedaCare campuses. Green, yellow and red labels are indicators of go, slow and stop foods. Green food items are considered good to go; yellow food items are foods to eat in moderation; and red food items should make the consumer stop and think about it.

“It’s a really simple method,” said Carol Peotter, registered dietitian at RMC, noting that the system allows patrons “to choose the healthiest foods possible.”

The need came from the company’s desire to have healthier employees. “We looked at how we could make our campus healthier for employees,” said Peotter. “We knew we needed a makeover.”

Recipes in the café have been remade to include healthier fats, lower sodium, more fiber and fresh ingredients like fruits and vegetables. “People who are trying to eat healthier are very appreciative of it,” said Peotter.

She admits it has not been an easy road. “When you change things, people aren’t always the happiest,” she said. Patrons are learning healthy fats are used in fried foods. Favorites like French fries are still available but are cooked in healthier canola oil. While it might be a red item, “you occasionally can have that and we’re making it healthier for you when you do have it.”

The café is also offering more baked items like sweet potato puffs and chicken tenders to reduce the fat and calories. Soups once were pre-made frozen, she said, noting many contained high sodium and fat contents. “Even the typical recipes you would find in a food service recipe book have higher sodium base,” she said.  “We took a look at all of our menu items and decided to make up our own fresh soups.”

The changes have been taken in stride and patrons are learning, said Peotter. There have been a couple questions about items that one would expect to be labeled green but are really yellow or red – such as the fruit-flavored yogurt. Plain yogurt is a healthier option than one sweetened with fruit jam, said Peotter. “Sweetened would be a red,” she said.

It has taken some adjustment but people are willing to try. “It’s a learning curve for everybody but the cooks have been wonderful in trying this,” she said.

Peotter said the response to the make-over has been positive. “Physicians have complimented us on how nice and easy it is to choose healthy,” she said.

Now that the café menu is in order, Peotter is looking to the future of the café. Soon she hopes it will offer fresh and local foods like produce. Her dream would be to move the café, to be named River’s Bend Café, from its current location to the first floor, making it easily accessible also to patients, families and the community.

“Not only would we have healthier Riverside employees but we’d have a healthier community,” said Peotter.