Fried chicken, french fries and greasy burgers will be taken off the menu at the soon-to-open BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee cafeteria. In their place will come more healthful options to improve eating habits among employees.
The movement, a team effort led by concerned staff, is one that “BlueCross plans to model and share with other companies and the community,” said Mark Selna, senior vice president of clinical advocacy.
The cafeteria, opening in January to the first wave of employees moving into the new Cameron Hill campus, comes with one of the best views in the city. But it’s the focus on health that is causing a stir in the BlueCross community.
“I’m glad BlueCross is being proactive in offering us a healthier choice,” said Ramy Yim, a research associate who will be moving to the new facility in April. Mr. Yim said he’s always been one to follow a healthful diet, but finding healthy options on menus is sometimes difficult. “I’m glad BlueCross is making it more available for employees’ meals,” he said.
Dan Jacobson, vice president of property and corporate services, said he “would venture to say that this kitchen is one of the most state-of-the-art in any company cafeteria.”
Mary Roberston, manager of corporate services, led the BlueCross team in choosing exactly how the change in food-service philosophy would be put into action. It started with choosing the right food-service company: SodexhoMagic, a partnership between Sodexho and Magic Johnson Enterprises. The combination of teams offers a more diverse portfolio of services to its clients, said Neal Seigler, district manager with SodexhoMagic.
“Magic’s values mirror ours, as far as customer service and offering a quality product at reasonable price,” Mr. Seigler said, adding that recipes have been tailored to reflect the healthful focus BCBS is putting on its menu.
The dining room can seat up to 400 diners at a time and is designed so that people can walk through one of several lines, all designed to be convenient and offer food choices in an interesting way, Ms. Robertson said. A second cafeteria down the hill at the Gateway offices will offer the same choices.
Food “pods” include one with a Mongolian-style griddle, will offer fresh meat and vegetable stir-fry dishes.
“We felt that by using this concept, they could preselect their ingredients, something people could enjoy,” Ms. Robertson said.
Across the room, a gas-fired pizza oven will cook up made-to-order pies with whole-wheat crusts and healthy toppings. Best yet, if employees are too busy to wait, they can call ahead and have their pizza waiting when they get to the cafeteria.
In addition to offering a wide variety of toppings, the salad bar will offer soups made fresh daily. And the hot food line will offer meat and vegetables.
“We’re in the South,” Ms. Roberston added. “We have to have our vegetables. But if people are in a hurry and have no time to come through, there’s a grab-and-go area where they can come in a pick up premade sandwiches and salads.”
A healthful edge
The South still leads the nation in obesity rates, with Tennessee ranking in the top three for the heaviest population, according to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“As the major health insurer in Tennessee, BlueCross is keenly aware of how poor nutrition contributes to poor health and how difficult it is for our employees to find healthy food choices,” Mr. Selna said. “At our new corporate campus, we will make it simple and affordable for our employees to choose nutritious meals — whether enjoyed at work or as freshly prepared take-home meals for their family.”
To make sure the employees are getting the foods they prefer, the company will interview employees in the coming weeks to see how they’re liking the new food offerings and to get suggestions for improvements.
“I’ve done some sneak visits to company cafeterias. Many have good food and nice offerings, but I’ve noticed that a lot of people seem to congregate at the greasy stuff,” Ms. Robertson said. “This is an opportunity for us to help teach people how to lead a healthier lifestyle. At the same time, we’re making the new campus totally nonsmoking. We’re kicking off 2009 with an exciting plan for people to become healthier.”
Tim Mulderink, who will be SodexhoMagic’s executive chef at BCBS, acknowledged that it “may be a challenge convincing all employees to do this for their own benefit, but the food is going to be good.
“We’ll have a captive audience every day, and we want to have something that’s different, but it’s important we give them a good variety and offer choices they could get by walking down the street to other restaurants.”
Mr. Yim will be one of the first in line when he makes his move.
“When people think about healthy food, they think it’s probably not going to be very good, but from what I hear, it’s going to be delectable and edible,” he said.