Healthier and more sustainable food in healthcare and hospitality settings leads to higher levels of satisfaction

Published on
December 6, 2022

Providing healthier and more sustainable food in healthcare and hospitality settings leads to greater levels of satisfaction among clients and guests, and improves staff motivation. That’s one of the key conclusions from the research report on ‘Healthy food in healthcare and hospitality’. “The results of this research give food providers something they can really work with,” says project leader Marieke Meeusen of Wageningen University & Research. “A crucial part of that is the need to build a better understanding of how to provide healthy and sustainable food. Because in many cases, there’s a lack of understanding of what that means.”

Many people want to have a healthier and more sustainable diet. But it’s not always that easy in practice, particularly for those who live in a healthcare facility or who rely on hospitality services for their meals. This led a group of stakeholders[1] to work with researchers from Greendish, the Louis Bolk Institute, NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences, Breda University of Applied Sciences and Wageningen University & Research to establish the PPP on Implementing food interventions in intramural healthcare facilities and hospitality settings and to try to answer the question: “What would help to improve access to healthier and more sustainable food in healthcare and hospitality settings?”

11 case studies

The study was made up of 11 different interventions organised by the PPP participants at a variety of closed settings (such as intramural healthcare facilities, hospitality venues, child daycare facilities and schools) in which healthier food offerings were developed and tried out. The researchers worked with the PPP participants to brainstorm ideas and organise inspiring workshops. This included considering the effects on the food choice behaviour of guests, clients or children/pupils as well as options for the food providers in implementing the intervention. The study showed that if the latter are positive about the changes, the actual implementation has a much greater impact.

Changes for food recipients

The study found that consumers appreciate being provided with healthy and sustainable food. “We measured higher levels of customer satisfaction among patients, guests, clients and residents in facilities whenever healthy and sustainable food and drink was offered. They appreciated it. This is a first step in changing consumer behaviour. But if you want to change patterns of consumption, it’s very important for people to prefer the alternative. The higher levels of customer satisfaction are also important because both healthcare staff and hospitality staff get a lot of satisfaction themselves out of pleasing the “people we do it for”, “seeing customers going away happy every day” and “when people enjoy what I’ve made”. So it’s motivating for staff members too. Finally, it’s obviously important to business continuity, because businesses depend on having satisfied customers,” says Meeusen.

Changes for food providers

For food providers, it’s about being willing to implement change, and understanding what to do, and being able to do it. “Throughout the study, we saw how people became more motivated to play a part in making food healthier and more sustainable,” says Meeusen. “Staff members feel it’s important to offer healthy and sustainable food. For them, the intervention only reinforced that view. Many staff members said that following the study, they felt it was even more important to pay attention to this issue. And the study also led many of them to feel they wanted to do more about it.”

The researchers also found that education and sharing information about healthy and sustainable food led to an improved understanding of the issue among staff members. This will help to create lasting change. “It was necessary too, because in some cases we saw a real lack of understanding among staff members about what healthy and sustainable food actually is. Healthy and sustainable food tends to be too narrowly defined. Healthy diets, for example, were often associated with eating lots of fruit and vegetables and less sugar, which is correct. But there’s actually much more to healthy eating than that. The same applies to sustainable diets. Many staff members associated this with environmental issues and reducing food waste, which is also correct, but again there is more to it than that.”

Putting ideas into practice

Having understood healthy and sustainable food, the next step is putting it into practice. What does a healthy and sustainable food offering actually look like? All staff members need practical guidelines for this, from chefs to waiters and feeding assistants. Here, too, sustainability is a particularly difficult concept to translate into practical guidelines. The case studies revealed that one very helpful approach is to offer starter packs with materials, provide flyers setting out practical tips, and to work together to come up with a concrete implementation plan (outlining what the intervention will actually look like in practice).

One important point to remember, according to the researchers, is that the message about healthy and sustainable food may not have penetrated everywhere in the organisation. This is a crucial element of creating lasting change.


Based on this study, we have come up with the following recommendations for the successful implementation of policies aimed at delivering healthy and sustainable food within healthcare facilities and hospitality settings:

Get started with healthy and sustainable food

  • Assume that healthy and sustainable food will lead to greater satisfaction levels among clients
  • Work with interventions that make it easier for clients to eat a healthy and sustainable diet
  • Work together, and help, inspire and empower each other

Motivate food providers

  • Ask those who are enthusiastic about the idea to take the lead
  • Let chefs/staff members come up with ideas and recipes themselves
  • Make sure that staff members build up their own, positive experiences
  • Make sure management are supportive and communicative

Build up an understanding of healthy and sustainable diets

  • Organise inspiring and encouraging training sessions to build trust and increase understanding
  • Translate healthy and sustainable food into practical guidelines for staff members

Empower staff members to provide healthy and sustainable food

  • Create opportunities!
  • Look into whether providing healthy and sustainable diets really does require more capacity; practical experience suggests that it actually often doesn’t
  • It’s helpful to consider labour-saving solutions: pre-sliced and pre-processed vegetables, for example

1Accor, Albron, Atlantis Handelshuis, Azora, Bidfood, Bonduelle, CELTH, De Zorgzaak, Lijnco Publishing, Dutch Cuisine, Eetgemak, the Municipality of Meppel, the Municipality of Rotterdam, the Municipality of Steenwijkerland, the Municipality of Westerveld, GGZ Noord-Holland-Noord, Greenco, JOGG, Jong Leren Eten, childcare organisations, KLM, Koppert Cress, Landal, the Dutch Fruit Growers Organization (NFO), Ondernemerspunt, Pennemes and Mennistenerf, PGVZ, Van Gelder, Van Kekem Fruit and a variety of healthcare facilities.