A recent announcement by New York City Mayor Eric Adams and New York City Health + Hospitals (H+H) CEO Dr. Mitchell H. Katz that culturally diverse plant-based meals are now the primary dinner options for inpatients at H+H/Lincoln, Metropolitan and Woodhull Hospitals highlights the progress being made by the country’s largest municipal health system to promote plant-based dining. H+H’s dinner program expands on the plant-based lunch default program it launched this past March that now boasts a 95% satisfaction rate, according to H+H.
“When it comes to preventing diet-related chronic disease, there is a growing recognition that it’s not our DNA—it’s our dinner,” Adams said in the announcement. “Since January, we have introduced Plant-Powered Fridays into schools, introduced fresh produce into the nation’s only municipal emergency food system, and expanded Plant-Based Lifestyle Medicine Clinics to public hospitals across all five boroughs. Now, we are proud to announce the successful rollout and expansion of default plant-based lunch and dinner options at all H+H sites. This transformative program is already changing lives, empowering patients to take control of their own health and further cementing New York City as a leader in preventive medicine.”
With 11 hospitals scattered across four of New York’s five boroughs (the exception is Staten Island), H+H serves about 3 million meals between lunch and dinner, with about half of all inpatients eligible for plant-based dishes. These are patients considered high-risk, prescribed a special diet or given a referral, and they can meet with one of more than a hundred registered H+H dieticians to learn more about the benefits of a plant-based diet; as a result, 60% have been choosing them since the plant-based default program was launched, though non-plant-based options continue to be available and are offered in accordance with a patient’s prescribed diet. H+H says this has contributed to approximately 864,000 plant-based meals per year being served while building on the Meatless Mondays initiative it launched in 2019 in collaboration with then-Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.
There are 14 new plant-based options with a selection offered each day. The meals are inspired by the flavors of Latin, Asian, and other cuisines that represent the health system’s diverse patient population. Examples of the new “chef’s choice” options offered to patients at the three sites include Thai noodle bowls, Spanish vegetable paella with yellow rice, and a Southern black-eyed pea casserole. Food Service Associates work with patients on meal choice and selection from the beginning of their stay until they are discharged and then encourage them to choose healthy meals as part of their healing and recovery plan of care.
“These new recipes have been taste-tested and approved by many of our patients and staff, and we’re excited for everyone to try them,” said Dr. Michelle McMacken, executive director, Office of Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine, NYC H+H. “The new meals are delicious, nutritious, and rooted in communities across New York City, from sancocho to pad Thai to falafel.”
H+H says it plans to offer plant-based dinner options at all hospitals this fall, and by year’s end plans to offer plant-based supplements and tube feeds as well. The system also plans to introduce the plant-based menu options to post-acute care facilities by January.
Plant-based nutrition is a style of cooking and eating that emphasizes, but is not necessarily limited to, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, plant oils, and herbs and spices. Research has shown that plant-based eating patterns are linked to significantly lower risk of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity and certain cancers, and can also be effective for weight management and the treatment of certain chronic diseases like Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and hyperlipidemia.
“As a registered dietitian I am grateful that plant-based foods are being recognized as essential for the health of New Yorkers and our patients,” said Mercedes Redwood, MS, RD, assistant vice president for management services, NYC Health + Hospitals. “We have worked closely with our chefs and clinical dietitians to produce a menu that is culturally appropriate, tasty, and sure to enhance our patients dining experience.”