Before joining with Beaumont Health this past February to create a new Michigan-based, not-for-profit integrated health system known (temporarily) as BHSH System, Spectrum Health partnered with Gordon Food Service and the Southfield-based health system to address chronic disease with nutrition through a program now known as Doright Dinner. Gordon Food Service and its innovation hub, known as Relish Works, were a perfect partner to deliver on the vision to supply medically tailored meals for patients 55 years of age and older who are living with either congestive heart failure or diabetes (type 1 or type 2).
“We believe in the power of food,” says Relish Works Managing Director Mandy Tahvonen. “And how that has played out in the health care setting is that food has often been a recommendation from a physician to someone suffering with chronic conditions. But it hasn’t been a treatment plan. It hasn’t been a prescribed routine.” Doright Dinner aims to change that model, a concept that made the initiative a perfect fit for the Michigan Health Endowment Fund, which in 2021 awarded a two-year, $500,000 grant to fund the program.
Participants in the program receive seven meals of their choice every week—from a menu of 11 available meals—for 10 weeks. The dinners are ready in 10 minutes or less to take the chore out of cooking and to nurture healthy habits. “We are sending convenient meals that can be warmed up right in the microwave, that can be made in minutes, right in their home,” says Caitlyn Melamed, registered dietitian and Doright Dinner program coordinator for Spectrum Health.
Convenient meals, yes, but also low-sodium, nutritionally balanced and delicious. Sodium-laden Salisbury steak and beef burritos are nowhere to be found on the Doright menu. Instead, meals like spiced lentil soup and lemon chicken with couscous can be found alongside more traditional offerings like country pot roast and meatloaf with sweet potato wedges, recipes that have been adjusted to maximize nutrition and minimize heart-unhealthy elements.
Because the program ends after 10 weeks, a primary goal is to introduce nutritious recipes, and help participants establish a healthy eating routine that can be continued beyond the program. Participants can meet with a registered dietitian for assistance in building healthy habits, and they will continue to have access to the Doright Dinner website and recipes after their 70 days of meals have come to an end.
“When a patient has congestive heart failure,” says Melamed, “they have to follow a low-sodium diet and are sometimes also on a fluid restriction, so their world can be turned upside down. [The diet is] confusing. It’s overwhelming. And then when they get home, if they go back to their same old eating habits, they will be right back in the hospital. That’s why a program like this is so impactful.”
“Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime,” goes the saying. Thanks to the philanthropic support of the Michigan Health Endowment Fund and partners like Gordon Food Service and Relish Works, our patients have not only been given ten weeks of “fish”—well, shrimp and sausage gumbo, at least—they have also been taught how to fish, through establishing a healthy eating routine that can be continued for a lifetime.