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Redefining Hospital Food with a Focus on Healthy, Local Ingredients at Lancaster General Hospital

Chefs at Lancaster General Health's Central Table Eatery serving food to visitors

The term “hospital food” isn’t generally seen as a compliment. But Penn Medicine is changing that perception, elevating the food experience from the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania’s Pavilion in Philadelphia — featuring celebrity chef Tom Colicchio’s Root & Sprig and local coffee guru Thane Wright’s Bower Cafe — to the new Central Table Eatery at Lancaster General Hospital (LGH).

The Food Services team at LGH set out to flip the script on the “traditional” hospital food experience with the new eatery, where hospital staff and visitors can dine on everything from chimichurri strip steak to matcha macaroons.

The first phase of the eatery, which opened earlier this month, serves as the hospital’s communal hub, offering handcrafted food in a bright, comforting environment. The second phase, with additional food stations and indoor and outdoor seating areas, is expected to open in early 2023.

“We offer a wide variety of delicious, healthy food options that fortify both the body and spirit,” said Nick Del Valle, director of Food Services at LGH. “We also provide a place of respite for our employees during breaks in the workday, as well as hospital visitors, who may be experiencing very challenging times in their lives.”

The Central Table Eatery marks the first update and expansion of the hospital’s dining services in 30 years. Ongoing construction of the Trauma & Emergency Department expansion required the relocation of the former ground-floor kitchen and cafeteria. In February 2022, an entirely new kitchen, which provides 3,400 meals daily for hospital patients and others, opened adjacent to the new eatery, located on the first floor.

Like the new cafeteria at the Pavilion, LGH’s Central Table Eatery emphasizes nutritious, local food options. In addition to sourcing food from more than two dozen local vendors, the eatery aims to make healthy choices accessible to everyone, serving an acai bowl for $7.50 and a shiitake beet burger for $6.50. 

A sandwich on a plate

“It’s very important that we offer healthy food options to help sustain our employees and visitors through what often can be very long days,” Del Valle said. “And because we understand the benefits of good nutrition, we also want to be sure we provide those options in a way that is convenient and affordable for all.”

Featured vendors — highlighted on “eat local” displays throughout the eatery — range from Square One Coffee, roasted just a mile from the hospital, to Fox Meadows Creamery, made on a family dairy farm in Ephrata, northern Lancaster County.

Executive chef Stephen Gotthelf said the eatery’s local focus is about both the flavor of the food and the health of the community. In the future, LG Health hopes to partner with additional companies from Lancaster County and the surrounding region, especially those that embrace sustainable business practices.

“Foods that are grown or produced locally taste fresher, and they don’t lose flavor or nutritional value during long periods spent in transit,” Gotthelf said. “We also want to do our part to support local food vendors, which benefits the entire community.”

As a chef, Gotthelf still emphasizes flavor first, and he hopes the eatery will earn a reputation for the best pizza in Lancaster County with its made-from-scratch dough baked in just 85 seconds in a special rotating oven, and served with healthful side options, including roasted vegetables and farro risotto.

The eatery’s other better-for-you options include a salmon, avocado, lettuce and tomato burger, as well as fresh microgreen garnishes grown in a special cabinet above the salad bar. The upscale Craft coffee bar’s rotating menu — designed by pastry chef Stacey Jinks, a veteran of area fine restaurants — might include a Bundt cake made with kale, applesauce, and lemon and orange zest.

Three Lancaster General Health employees stand in line in front of one of the cafeteria's food stations

The Central Table Eatery, with more than 50 full-time employees, is managed by Morrison, LG Health’s food service contract company since 2007. Hours are 6 AM to 8:30 PM and 2 to 4 AM (for third-shift employees) seven days a week.

Rachel Schaffer, associate director of Retail, said staff and visitor convenience was another key consideration in designing the new eatery. The Market area offers grab-and-go grocery items and gifts, including Hammonds Pretzels, Evans Candy, and other local products. And at the end of their workday, staff can pick up whole rotisserie chickens or other dinner items to go.

“Our employees give so much of themselves to care for our patients and the community,” Schaffer said. “This has been especially true over the past two years. We want to do everything we can to support them and help make their day go a little more smoothly.”

Diners order their food using digital kiosks, with employees receiving a 20 percent discount and earning rewards points toward future purchases. Employees can pay for their meals through payroll deduction and by scanning their identification badges, and will soon be able to place orders in advance by using a mobile phone app.

The eatery currently offers seating for about 120 people at tables, and the second phase will bring more seating, as well as additional food options. What’s more, a new Foodworks station will showcase local restaurants and double as a demonstration kitchen for cooking classes.

“We want to change what people think of when they picture ‘hospital food,’” food services director Del Valle said. “Our goal is to exceed the expectations of our staff, visitors and the community by offering a dining experience that rivals the best restaurants in Lancaster.”


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