2 N.J. Hospitals Follow Guiding Stars

Two New Jersey hospitals have become the first in the Garden State to implement the “Guiding Stars” nutrition navigation program for their cafeterias and other public foodservice areas. The facilities are Hackensack University Medical Center (UMC) and Overlook Medical Center in Summit, N.J.

The system, which originally debuted at Hannaford stores in 2006, rates the nutritional value of every available item in each hospital on a scale of zero to three stars, including hot and cold prepared foods, offerings from the salad bar, grab-and-go items, and beverages. Each item then receives a label with a corresponding tag, sticker or other signage: one star is good, two stars is better and three stars is best. Foods with no stars don’t meet the program’s criteria. All items are rated according to a patented algorithm based on the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans and other national evidence-based nutrition policies.

“Being in the business of wellness, it makes perfect sense for these facilities to encourage healthier eating by making it simple for employees and visitors to make nutritious food choices,” noted John Eldredge, director of brand and business development for Scarborough, Maine-based Guiding Stars Licensing Co.

Hackensack and Overlook are the latest in a growing number of hospitals, public schools, colleges and other foodservice facilities to implement the program. In addition, more than 1,700 grocery stores offer Guiding Stars, including Hannaford’s sister Delhaize America banners, Food Lion and Sweetbay, along with Homeland, Kings Super Market, Marsh, and, in Canada, Loblaws. The program even appears on the Shopper mobile iPhone application.

“Encouraging a healthy lifestyle is a core part of our mission, and the Guiding Stars system makes it easy for guests and employees to take an active role in improving and maintaining their overall health and quality of life,” noted Irma Newdorf, HackensackUMC’s assistant director of nutrition and food management.

Overlook, part of Atlantic Health System, is taking the program a even further, pairing Guiding Stars with its Summit Fit Program, which gives points to employees who make healthy choices. Employees earn points for every Guiding Stars-rated item they purchase, along with other healthy choices like drinking water instead of sugary beverages. The accumulated points can then be redeemed for gift certificates good toward hospital café purchases.

“In addition to our focus on top-notch patient care, we recognize the opportunity we have as a community leader to encourage good health and well-being among everyone in the communities we serve,” explained Todd Kaminksy, Overlook’s retail coordinator for food service. “By improving the nutritional profile of our offerings and demonstrating just how easy it is to make nutritious choices here at our facility, our goal is to encourage staff and visitors to make the same good choices once they leave our campus.”

As well providing nutritional information to the hospital cafeterias’ visitors, Guiding Stars can be easily expanded to include patient menus in hospital settings.

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