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Hospital food for thought—medical students learn about healing through nutrition

Southside Hospital chef, Antonio Cinicola, teaches med students how to prepare healthy meals at Food Day.
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When you think of hospital food, chances are ‘fresh’ and ‘appetizing’ do not immediately spring to mind. More like bland and ironically unhealthy according to recent surveys and studies of food service in the U.S. hospital setting. In response, leading medical centers like Northwell Health are on a mission to improve what’s on patient plates and palates as first-year medical students learned at Food Day held on May 11 at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell.

Healthy fare at Food Day.

“Food can heal people,” said chef Bruno Tison, AVP, Systems Food Services and Corporate Chef at Northwell Health, in his talk. “I am very excited to be a part of redefining food in the healthcare industry.”

Chef Tison, a 30+-year veteran of the hospitality industry known for his nouvelle cuisine, was hired by Northwell to overhaul the dining experience for patients and more than 60,000 staff in the health system. Working with Northwell dieticians, chefs, and caregivers, his mission is to prepare healthier, restaurant-quality meals without raising costs, while making kitchen staff accountable for the food they serve.

“It is about changing the culture,” said chef Tison who has cooked for world leaders and managed the kitchens of the finest establishments, including the Plaza Hotel in New York City.

During Food Day, first-year students learned about the critical connection between chronic conditions and diet, and how their involvement with patients as practicing physicians can drive home the importance of prevention and healing through proper nutrition. Southside Hospital-Northwell Health Senior Director of Nutritional Services, Linda Allison, and Chief Clinical Dietician, Leah Pasquarella, MS, RD, CDN, explained.

“The focus on nutrition, inside and outside of the hospital setting, is the piece that has been missing in medical education,” said Pasquarella. “Food is medicine and dieticians are an important part of the care team. Dieticians can help identify nutrition problems, develop dietary plans, and counsel patients on how to promote health and healing through food.”

The Food Day presentation included a food prep demonstration including a full menu of healthy and delicious recipes as created by Southside chef, Antonio Cinicola, who maintains the hospital’s new cafeteria organic herb garden and uses the aromatic plants in meals made for patients.  Students and staff in attendance taste tested tofu sliders, eggplant caviar, and cucumber salad with ginger vinaigrette, topped off with a dessert made with Nutella and dragon fruit. Food reviews ranged from excellent and satisfying to pleasantly surprised.

“So fresh and tasty! Definitely not what one would consider hospital fare but it should be the standard, it’s important to teach patients how to treat their bodies well,” said a student participant.

Also in attendance was Stacey Rosen, MD, professor of cardiology at the Zucker School of Medicine and co-author of Heart Smart for Women who spoke with students about gender differences and disparities in healthcare.

“In writing the book, we enlisted the expertise of a registered dietician to help with the development of chapters in nutrition,” said Dr. Rosen whose book, written with Associate Dean of Faculty Affairs, Jennifer Mieres, MD, provides a roadmap for women on heart-healthy living and how to become better consumers of health. “Today’s program supports why hospitals and healthcare providers need to work together to lead the way in promoting good food and drink choices. We are role models.”

Food Day at the School of Medicine was supported by Southside Hospital—Northwell Health and the Wellness@Northwell program in collaboration with Alice Fornari, EdD, Associate Dean for Educational Skills Development and Lisa Martin, JD, Program Manager, Humanities in Medicine program at the Zucker School of Medicine.

For more information about Heart Smart for Women, available in Spanish this summer, visit

About the author

Adrienne Stoller

Adrienne Stoller is communications manager at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell. For more information about news items or media inquiries, please send a message to or call 516-463-7585.

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