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Food values: Nourishing body and soul at Silver Hill Hospital

By Silver Hill Hospital | Connecticutplus.com

Everyone enjoys the sense of wellbeing that comes from a healthy, delicious meal. But in a medical setting, the power of food can become positively therapeutic. Today, Silver Hill Hospital and Unidine Corporation are delivering on that value.

Silver Hill Hospital provides specialized care for adults and adolescents with psychiatric, substance use or eating disorders. Located on a serene, 45-acre country campus in New Canaan, CT, the hospital offers inpatient and residential treatment programs. It has a nationwide reputation for restoring mental health that dates back to its founding in 1931.

The environment of care at Silver Hill addresses every aspect of the patient’s experience. That includes creating a warm, home-like atmosphere in the beautifully renovated, historic buildings, and providing meals that nourish the patient physically, socially and emotionally.

To extend their philosophy of care deeper into the connection of health and food, Silver Hill turned to Unidine Corporation, a food service company specializing in the healthcare sector. Together, they are making advances in programs that use food -- and meal preparation classes -- as a therapy that helps patients return to normal life.

A Fresh Approach

The partnership began in 2007, when Silver Hill Hospital determined to enhance the entire dining experience for their patients. They chose Unidine for its commitment to homemade, gourmet cuisine made from the freshest ingredients. With special attention to properly cooked and beautifully presented meals, Unidine delivers a message of care along with quality. It’s a far cry from typical “institutional food,” and it transforms mealtime for Silver Hill patients into a positive, gratifying highlight of the day.

Following Unidine’s fresh-food approach, the hospital’s “Chef Henry” puts care into planning seasonal menus. Every recipe is made from scratch using as much fresh, local fare as possible. Many fruits and vegetables are harvested by area farmers and bring variety to the table according to what is in season. Crisp apples and pears, green peppers, cucumbers, field greens, juicy tomatoes and flavorful mushrooms are part of the local bounty.

Dairy products and seafood are also locally purveyed. Herbs are home-grown in the hospital’s own garden, which is tended by patients as part of their therapy. Made-from-scratch baked goods by the hospital’s on-site baker provide the table with wholesome breads and tempting desserts.

It’s a kitchen Chef Henry is pleased to run. “Freshness and service are the biggest improvements I have seen here. We consistently get comments from patients who appreciate the great food and service.”

The home-cooked quality of the meals reflects back to the days of the hospital’s original farmhouse, now the Patricia Regnemer Main House. For patients, it conveys a sense of pride and togetherness. For the community, it demonstrates the hospital’s commitment to supporting local food suppliers.

A Temptation for Every Taste

To please every palate, variety is offered at each meal. For breakfast, patients can enjoy fresh fruit and cereal, or heartier choices like grilled bacon and sausage, eggs, French toast or buttermilk pancakes. Seasonal, made-from-scratch soups are served daily to complement two hot entrée choices. Sophisticated cuisines such as rosemary garlic chicken, Hungarian goulash and blackened salmon bring excitement to the dining room.

For patients with food allergies or special dietary needs, the kitchen will prepare customized meals, from heart-healthy options to Kosher or vegan. Patients with eating disorders also have special, supervised meals to help them achieve a healthy relationship to food.

Recipe for Recovery

Upscale, restaurant-style dining isn’t the only benefit for Silver Hill patients. The kitchen is open for “cooking therapy” programs that engage patients directly in food preparation as part of their recovery process. Classes may include guided grocery shopping expeditions. By learning to make healthy food choices and prepare wholesome, nutritious meals on their own, patients gain the skills to live independently.

For adolescent patients in particular, these programs provide an enjoyable social outlet, allowing them to cook with their peers and build self-esteem while learning the importance of a nutritious diet.

The dining program at Silver Hill Hospital helps shape a positive perspective of food that stays with patients once they have moved on. The father of a teenage patient requested recipes from the dining staff, noting that, “When my daughter came home, I saw noticeable improvements in every area of her life, even her appetite. She used to be a very picky eater, and I worried about her nutrition. Now, family meals are more enjoyable, and she isn’t afraid to try new things.”

Unidine’s culinary experts also work with patients receiving treatment in Hill House, a program for chronically mentally ill patients. Here, cooking classes encourage food preparation skills, building patients’ independence and helping them cope with the transition to an independent living situation. One patient, a young adult diagnosed with schizophrenia, learned the skills he needed to maintain his independence, and he was looking forward to living in a supportive group home. Thanks to his time in the Silver Hill kitchen, he felt confident that he could handle his share of menu planning, grocery shopping and cooking.

Setting the Table, Setting the Course

Together, Silver Hill Hospital and Unidine have created a recipe for success, integrating food preparation and mealtime into experiences that support recovery. The lesson is simple but profound: when gourmet meals, lovingly prepared from the freshest ingredients, are shared in a comfortable, home-like atmosphere, lives can be transformed.

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