In 2009, Southwestern Vermont Medical Center signed the Healthy Food Pledge, joining hospitals across the nation committed to providing healthier food for patients, their families, and employees. We were responding to a national and local need and not to any mandates or legislation; we chose to move in this direction because it is the right thing to do.
The Abbey Group has made similar choices for the menus in our area school systems. They’ve done so after making thoughtful, measured decisions to provide delicious and nutritional, high-quality food choices. They’ve replaced foods such as fried foods, items with large amounts of salt, and foods with limited nutritional content with healthier ones. Their decision to make these changes began well ahead of the national push to do so.
Making these changes fits in well with what area youth are saying about their own health. In the most recent Bennington County Youth Risk Behavioral Survey, 29 percent of high school students and 27 percent of middle-school-aged youth consider themselves overweight. Half of area youth (male and female combined) state they are actively trying to lose weight. Abbey Group’s decision to offer healthier food choices is directly aligned with helping youth who want to make more nutritious choices do so with confidence.
We recognize that it will take time to adapt. At SVMC, as with the Abbey Group, we saw the need to promote and support a healthy lifestyle. Both of us have made our changes a little at a time. Not all SVMC employees were comfortable at first. We switched to "Meatless Mondays," removed fried foods, reduced our meat portions, and increased our vegetable portions.
We continue to introduce new food options and often get rave reviews from many of our initial naysayers. Even our youngest clients in the Learning Tree Day Care are trying new, healthier foods and enjoying them. We also offer a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program to employees through Clearbrook Farms, providing members with an affordable way to put fresh, local, and organic produce on the table.
Both SVMC and the Abbey Group purchase produce from local farmers. We do so not only to ensure that it is fresh, but also to support our local economies and businesses. The Youth Agriculture Project at the Tutorial Center cultivates some of the produce we use. The Center teaches local, at-risk youth about farming, sustainable practices, and business skills.
The Abbey Group uses produce harvested from Mount Anthony Middle School’s garden programs. They do this to model positive behaviors as well as to support local growing efforts. These are all excellent messages to share with our kids.
Making a change to healthier eating requires a lot of support both at home and in the community. We offer cooking classes and educational seminars so individuals and families can learn how to make nutritious eating a way of life. As a health care organization, we know all of the negative health issues related to obesity. We now feel we’re part of the solution instead of part of the problem.
The Abbey Group is helping to reinforce a healthier lifestyle for our community’s youth. As parents, it’s good to know our children will have healthy food choices available in the school cafeteria; it’s where they eat at least five meals a week.
We support the Abbey Group for the choices they’re making. Thank you, Abbey Group, for doing your part to support the health of our area’s youth.
Kiah Morris is a Community Health Improvement Specialist at SVMC. Tiffany Tobin is director Nutrition and Dining.