The importance of food to health and healing

Alex Munter is the CEO of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) and the Ottawa Children’s Treatment Centre. CHEO’s Director of Food and Marketed Services, Bernice Wolf, is one of 25 Nourish innovators in a national community of practice.


Food is part of both health and healing. It’s also a vital part of the quality of care and compassion for which CHEO is renowned. We are delighted to join Nourish in this collective journey to explore the role of food in health care.

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At CHEO, it’s a priority to help children, youth and their families make healthy food choices, in keeping with our hospital’s mission of promoting wellness. We understand that the food behaviours we model here are ones that influence our patients and clients when they go home.

For us, food is one of the strategies we can use to help addressing pressing health issues like childhood obesity, improving outcomes for the patient in the short term and the organization and community in the long term.

When we introduced a room service model, we learned that it radically increased patient food satisfaction (from 33% to 98%) and decreased food wastage. More recently, we undertook renovations to eliminate deep fat fryers and brought in stations for cooking on-the-spot pasta and stir-fries and smoothies. Our food service team has partnered with local suppliers to provide fresh microgreens, pasta and bread to our hospital kitchen, and we have our own herb garden maintained by patients.

We’re proud of these achievements – and we know that we can do more. For example, we are looking to increase the local food we buy by 25% this year.  Although we know there will be challenges as we advance in areas like sourcing local, antibiotic-free meat, we also know that we will have the support of others with experience on the path.

We strive not only to provide exceptional patient and family experience, but to be a leader in our community. Children and their families face serious challenges around obesity, and we want to find more and better ways to support them to eat healthy foods. We’re working to develop programs to engage and educate patients and families about growing food and healthy eating to promote wellness – both during their hospital stay and when they go home.

By participating in Nourish, we are connecting with other health care organizations and innovators seeking to improve food, the patient experience and wellbeing -- within and beyond our walls. We have as much to learn as to teach, whether it is about creating hospital gardens, educating our patients and families to help fight childhood obesity, increasing purchasing of local and sustainable food, or reducing waste.

By collaborating with other health care facilities and leaders across Canada, we can bring the food-health conversation and this work to a national level.
— Alex Munter, CEO, CHEO

As leaders in our communities, we know that part of our job is to be role models for the future. By collaborating with other health care facilities and leaders across Canada, we can bring the food-health conversation and this work to a national level. Beyond what individual hospitals can do, we can work together to empower our patients and staff with information to better manage their health through food, support local economic development with our food purchasing, improve policies like the revision of Canada’s Food Guide or measures that reduce sugary drink consumption.

We can help the health care system and the food system evolve to make the healthy and sustainable choice the easy choice for patients, families, staff and communities.