UNM SRMC Food Service
Freshly prepared food is the foundation of nutrition, say food service managers at UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center.
Credit: Cindy Foster

We eat with our eyes.

That's an important concept for UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center Food Services, as the hospital has expanded its inpatient and public menus, said Elizabeth Eischen, director of food services at the 72-bed community hospital.

“The basis of all healing is nutrition. We know that if we can entice our patients with our meal presentation, we can get them to start eating,” she said.

With that goal in mind, the hospital recently began a “Chef Service” patient menu with choices that rival those of a restaurant, she said.

“Medical centers are stressful environments. We wanted to move beyond simply delivering meals to providing an in-room dining experience that would leave our clients with the feeling they have escaped the hospital experience for a few minutes,” she said.

The new inpatient program begins with patients receiving a colorful menu listing several entrée options. They can, for instance, start the morning with waffles with cinnamon-spiced peach compote, accompanied by Greek yogurt, then move on later in the day to a chilled roasted salmon filet or a Southwestern ground turkey burrito. Once ordered, servers dressed in black and white bistro-style waiter uniforms deliver carefully plated entrees to the patient rooms, said Eischen.  

Not every patient’s condition allows them access to the special menu, but most days it is available to about 50 percent of the population, she said.

The need for freshness and presentation to promote health is also at the core of all menu planning at SRMC.

At the medical center’s Rio Rancho location, there are few alternatives for hungry workers at nearby City Center and the Hewlett-Packard call center. Word of the medical center’s food service has reached those buildings and now their employees are dropping by for a quick breakfast burrito, to try daily specials or to grab something from the grill, according to Eischen.  

Posters announcing upcoming entrees are displayed throughout the facility so staff can plan around their favorite offerings, she said.    

A recent week saw different styles of American barbeque – from Carolina to Memphis – featured as daily specials. There have also been riffs on Asian, mid-Eastern and other ethnic cuisines. Staff call out positive feedback on what is on their plates as Eischen walks through the room, moving from table to table and asking people how they are liking the food.   

Staff and community members also receive a mini-education on nutrition at the self-service, upgraded salad bar. Serving utensil handles are color-coded to help make healthy choices:  green handles signify you can have as you want, yellow caution to be careful with portion size and red means add just a bit.

The foods service is provided through Aramark but Eischen has a great deal of leeway in customizing menus for the local dining scene.  A staff of 17, including two dietitians, run the inpatient service, coffee shop, full-service cafeteria. 

“It has been gratifying for everyone to see these changes and we know we’re going to keep doing new things to keep the service fresh," said Eischen. "We want to grow with the community.”