Grantee Spotlight: Rethinking Hospital Food with Real Food for Real Kids

Institutional food doesn’t have the best reputation. Readers weren’t surprised to see that the management at Ottawa Hospital were no fans of the food served to patients – but I was impressed that they were prepared to admit as much, and announce steps to make big changes to their foodservice.

David Farnell, CEO at Real Food for Real Kids (RFRK), knows these changes aren’t easy. RFRK tried to break into the foodservice market at Toronto-area hospitals and realized getting their healthy, fresh-prepared food to patients would take some work. With an investment of $69,000 from the Greenbelt Fund, RFRK is re-designing their entire operation to meet HAACP regulations and begin serving patients at Sick Kids and St. Michael’s Hospital.



What RFRK is all about

RFRK started out in childcare centres and elementary schools – “where processed food lives”, as David says. RFRK found that the infrastructure on site for preparing food is non-existent, so the best that many schools and childcare centres can get is pre-processed, simple food.

The approach at RFRK is different. For starters, it’s a hot chain supply model intended to serve real food to locations that have no infrastructure to cook on site. RFRK’s self-imposed mandate of no factory farm meats, no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives, and a nut-free environment, means there is very little choice but to make everything in house. The result is fresh, healthy food filling little bellies in daycares and schools across Toronto.

Why expand into hospitals?

“We looked at who else is burdened by the same constraints as schools and daycares,” says David “Long term care homes and hospitals were the obvious answer.” While Sick Kids and St. Michael’s are eagerly awaiting RFRK services once the HAACP certification is in place, not all hospitals are on board.

A major obstacle is the institutional mandate to bring in food at the lowest possible cost, with the longest possible shelf life, at the lowest possible labour. At RFRK, the price is right but there is also a focus on flavour, excitement, and fun. “We don’t shy away from flavour,” says David. “At St. Mike’s we’ve been asked about jambalaya, curry, and other globally-inspired dishes. There is a huge gap in foodservice when it comes to meat-free dishes and providing food that appeal to a more diverse range of patients.”

When will it happen?

For Toronto-area hospitals interested in the RFRK approach, the wait is almost over. David expects to be ready in Spring 2017 with HAACP and the right experience to help institutions transition from processed food to fresh, local food.

“We have found time and again that the directors at childcare centres want to do the right thing, they just need the opportunity presented to them,” says David. Here’s hoping Toronto’s hospital administration feels the same way.