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During the last couple of years, Kenmore Mercy Hospital Food Service Manager Kathy Kubiak-McAlpine has spiced things up by getting the entire medical complex thinking green – as in more vegetables and more recycling.

The hospital cafeteria lists calories on many of its food choices, focuses on portion control and has one of the best salad bars in the Northtowns.

“People eat with their eyes first,” McAlpine explains.

You can’t buy bottled water from her staff. Instead, workers provide filtered water – some infused with cucumbers and basil, strawberry and mint, or orange slices with ginger – from a “Hydration Station” in the coffee shop. It’s all free, as an incentive to keep water bottles from ending up in the trash and steer people to less sugary drinks.

McAlpine, 55, also has started a community garden at the hospital and taken other steps to encourage patients and staff to eat healthy – and local. She has worked at Kenmore Mercy for 10 years and has 36 years in hospital food service management.

A. We have a restaurant-style menu and it’s cooked to serve. We’ve made some new changes, such as a turkey sausage instead of a pork sausage. We’re doing brown rice instead of white rice. I’ve added some meatless entrees. We have a portabella mushroom sandwich on our menu every day. We have tilapia and salmon, also. Ceasar Salad, the Cape Cod salad, fresh fruit and cottage cheese plate. It’s totally different from your canned fruit. I’m trying to push as many fresh fruits and vegetables as opposed to frozen, canned.

Q. How are you going local?

A. For an employee benefit, we’ve just partnered with Becker Farms, which sells shares of their crops. We just opened that up for our associates to purchase. It will be delivered here on Wednesdays. The hospital also will partake in the fresh produce, so we’ll be incorporating that in our cafeteria and patient menu. The premise of buying a share is you get a box of produce, in season, fresh picked. You get enough vegetables for a week. We became a drop-off site for Becker Farms and we got one free share for doing that.

Q. How has Meatless Mondays gone in the cafeteria?

A. We’ve been doing that for about two years. It started off slow, but now we have people ask, ‘When are you going to have the zucchini sandwich on again?’ We do an eggplant sandwich, broccoli and ziti, portabella mushrooms, veggie burgers, pastas, and we always have the salad bar.

Q. What other initiatives have you taken?

A. We do 300-calorie Tuesdays. We charge a penny a calorie, so it’s always a $3 menu item. We’re trying to educate on smaller portions. We do a stuffed chicken breast with fresh vegetables, trying to eliminate potatoes and rice, more or less sticking with a meat and a vegetable. Our menu changes weekly.

Q. You’ve been cited for your recycling efforts?

A. This year, we’ve received the Green Globe Award from the Ken-Ton Chamber of Commerce. We separate our garbage here from paper. In the kitchen alone, we put all our cans out to recycling, we are collecting all of our fresh kitchen scraps and they go to Modern for their compost facility. Within the hospital, from surgery to the nursing departments, we try to keep everything we can out of our landfills. We also received a national award from Practice Green Health. Last year we kept 164 tons out of our landfill.

Q. How does the Kenmore Mercy Foundation figure into your work?

A. They funded our rooftop garden. They helped with equipment for that. We grew tomatoes, parsley, basil, oregano; more herbs than vegetables. We can dry those and use them for a longer period of time.

Q. Now the garden has been displaced because of the new emergency room?

A. We’re also building a new ortho floor on the second floor above the emergency room and that is taking our space.

We’ll hopefully do a pond and tranquility garden near our new emergency room, so families can take some time to reflect, and we’re going to put in some herbs that will give off some good aromas: rosemary and basil and thyme, parsley and lavender.

Q. How many employees do you supervise, and have their eating habits changed over time?

A. About 35, and most definitely. Our cooks are wonderful. Because of the room service, we’re hiring chefs from the industry. Most of them have restaurant backgrounds. My goal is to get them to experiment and buy into the healthy 300-calorie meals and the Meatless Mondays, so they’re coming up with some great meals.

Q. Other things are in the works?

A. I’m going to sign a healthy food pledge that’s national. They want you to buy local, commit to decreased sugar drinks and reduce meats by 20 percent.

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