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Emory University Hospital pilots plant-powered menu options

Jackfruit tacos with pineapple salsa and cashew crema can be sampled in Emory University Hospital's Asbury Café.

The food and nutrition team at Emory University Hospital is placing an intentional spotlight on healthful, plant-based meals in 2024. Called the “Plant-Powered Menu,” the team has launched a test menu at Asbury Café, which is located on the ground floor of the main hospital.

Rotating meal options through Feb. 16 will include:

  • Southwest bean burgers with guacamole and salsa
  • General Tso’s tofu
  • Mushroom bourguignon with celery root mash
  • Jackfruit tacos with pineapple salsa and cashew crema
  • Plant-based chorizo nachos supreme
  • Eggplant meatballs and spaghetti
  • And other flavorful offerings.

Emory Healthcare’s assistant director of culinary services Mike Bacha and executive chef Brad Mess have been refining recipes based on hospital“classics” while also being inspired by recent trends and local food-sourcing businesses.

“I am truly excited to have the ability to introduce people to more plant-based options in our cafes,” Bacha says. “It should also be a lot of fun for our culinary team to explore new dishes!” 

Building on past successes

Mike and Kip

Mike Bacha (left) and Kip Hardy prepare for a cooking demonstration session.

While reflecting on the success of the Plant-Based Harvest Feast — a Thanksgiving themed event from recent years — and cooking demonstrations her team hosts, Kip Hardy, RDN, project manager for the Emory University Hospital Food and Nutrition team says, “It feels good to build on the previous work by putting an emphasis on unique varieties of vegetables, beans and grains.”

In 2019, Hardy and Bacha also helped coordinate the Forward Food Symposium at Emory, bringing together academic and health care collaborators from all over the Southeast for a day of education and training focused on expanding plant-forward menu offerings.

The primary motivation for focusing on minimally processed plant-based foods is health.

“Plant-based diets are known to promote health and healing,” says Jennifer K. Gustafson, MD, assistant professor of gynecology and obstetrics at Emory University School of Medicine, who is board-certified in lifestyle medicine. “With these new options, Emory University Hospital is showcasing that ‘food as medicine’ can also be delicious.”

The founder of Emory Healthy Kitchen Collaborative, Sharon H. Bergquist, MD, professor of medicine at Emory, agrees and adds, “Plant-based eating has consistently been shown to be the most effective dietary pattern for preventing and slow progression of the most common chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimer’s. Offering delicious and healthy options is a wonderful way of supporting employee, patient and student health.”  

In addition to evidence-based benefits of plant-forward nutrition, the food pilot is also motivated by employee feedback.

“Offering vegetarian and vegan options in our hospital responds to a real need voiced by people in our division,” says Anna Von, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at Emory. It further expands on the inclusivity factor, too. “Not only does this initiative increase healthy options for all of us, it also helps to include everyone in our community.”

Try the new menu items


Chef Andre Selby prepares for the lunchtime crowd at Asbury Café.

The plant-powered pilot or test menu is available through Feb. 16. Afterwards, the team will reflect on customer feedback and overall success of the pilot with the hopes of continuing, scaling to other locations and possibly expanding to the patient menu.

“I am thrilled about this project,” says Krystyna R. Morgan, MPH, director of Emory’s Woodruff Health Sciences Center Office of Well-Being. “Offering clearly labeled and delicious plant-forward vegan options aligns with Emory’s commitment to inclusivity, sustainability and creating an environment where healthy choice can be an easy choice. I hope these healthier food options are here to stay. It’s another step forward as we continue to transform our food offerings to support the healing journey of our patients and teams.”

“Healthier eating sounds challenging to some of us that are not as familiar with unique ingredients,” says Catherine Maloney, FACHE, chief operating officer at Emory University Hospital. “Emory Healthcare’s efforts to expose our staff, patients and visitors to plant-based food items is critical for helping break down barriers to the question, ‘How do I start?’. I greatly appreciate the initiative to change my perceptions of trying new and different food that can enhance my own personal health.”

Asbury Café is located on the ground floor of the main Emory University Hospital building (1364 Clifton Rd., NE, Atlanta, GA 30322), beside the G and H elevators. The new plant-powered meal options will be served Monday through Friday during lunch (11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.) and dinner (4-8 p.m.).

Learn more about the menu, recipes or the benefits of plant-based nutrition at the Plant Powered Menu resource list. Those who try the featured plant-based menu options can share feedback for a chance to win weekly prizes during the time of the pilot.

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