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Farmers' Market Cafe: A Fresh Take on Hospital Food

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Farmers' Market Cafe: A Fresh Take on Hospital Food

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The Farmers' Market Cafe at American Family Children's Hospital is part of the Buy Fresh, Buy Local program.Madison, Wisconsin - The task in front of John Marks was a tough one: Create recipes featuring local products that embrace both healthy-lifestyle guidelines and great taste.

Marks, the executive chef at University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics, did just that - and had plenty of fun - while developing the menu of sandwiches, wraps, soups, salads and smoothies on offer at the new Farmers' Market Café at American Family Children's Hospital.

"What's neat is the challenge of creating something that's calorically compatible to what they want, but still having good flavor," Marks said of the year-long project that culminated with the Café's opening on May 13. "So you have to come up with these different flavor profiles."

Facebook photo album from the Café's opening

The chef took a "farm to hospital" approach, partnering with the REAP Food Group - a Madison non-profit group that runs the "Buy Fresh, Buy Local" program, which connects area farmers and suppliers to 42 restaurants and other local groups providing food services.

"We looked at the menus and decided to do local, healthy, organic, all-natural foods," Marks said.

"There are some really top-quality products, so that when our children are coming here to eat, and our guests and our visitors are coming to eat, they know what they are getting."

The recipes take away a lot of the salt and sugar that is prevalent in abundance in so many foods people consume today, Marks said, adding that the menu items hopefully will be a taste of "what eating used to be."

Menu items includes beef, turkey breast, chicken breast, pork loin, ham and hummus sandwiches, in addition to a new take on the classic PB&J. Mixed spring greens, quinoa, kale and cranberries are among the ingredients in the five salads, while five flavors of fruit smoothies are available.

While Marks and his staff handled matters on the food side, Jeff Poltawsky, vice president of American Family Children's Hospital, led the way in making the Café become a reality.

He said he was struck by last year's HBO documentary, "The Weight of the Nation: Children in Crisis," which highlighted the increasing problem of pediatric obesity. Parts of the movie were filmed at the UW Health Pediatric Fitness Clinic.

"I was deeply moved," Poltawsky said. "It influenced me to change my nutrition and my physical fitness goals. ... I think it's very important to role model for children a path to better health and better fitness and better nutrition."

That includes offering healthier selections at American Family Children's Hospital, a change hailed as a "culture shift" by Nan Peterson, director of Child Health Advocacy at American Family Children's Hospital.

"As a children's hospital, we see the consequences of preventable disease and have an obligation to lead the way in modeling healthful food choices," Peterson said. "And today, we embrace this change with what food choices we offer our patients, out families, visitors and staff."

And Farmers' Market Café could be a springboard for wider-ranging changes: Poltawsky said the hospital will work with Patient and Family Advisory councils to redesign inpatient menus throughout UW Hospital and Clinics, and re-evaluate the offerings available in vending machines at the hospitals.

"We see farm to health care as the next big movement in local foods," said Theresa Feiner, the "Buy Fresh, Buy Local" program manager.

Note: John Marks left UW Hospital and Clinics in 2013. A new executive chef, John Williams, assumed this position in September 2013.

Date Published: 06/03/2013