A study of four hospitals
Blended burger recipe creation by Beverly Hospital in Northeast Massachusetts
- Blending mushrooms with ground meat can reduce saturated fat and sodium compared to an all-beef patty while maintaining the texture and flavor of traditional burgers.
- Reducing meat through blending reduces a facility's carbon and water footprint without taking away comfort foods.
- Blending can be a cost neutral strategy for incorporation of “better meat” such as local and grass-fed options raised without routine antibiotics.
- In a Massachusetts-based pilot, four hospitals reduced their use of meat by 529 pounds, a reduction of 24 percent, over six months.
“People loved the burger’s flavor. Some who do not like mushrooms still enjoyed it because the flavor is hidden in the beef. Many of our registered dietitians enjoyed its more nutritious qualities.”
— Mary Beth Schlichtholz, Rady Children’s Hospital food service director
Health care food service often faces competing priorities when developing menus for patients and retail outlets. They may want to serve healthy, plant-based dishes, but also meet the demand for comfort foods. Additionally, a growing number of hospitals are working to serve sustainable meat, but are limited by balancing tight budgets. One solution to this dilemma is using a blending approach. A blended burger combines mushrooms (or other plant-based ingredients) with ground beef (or other ground meat) to reduce the total meat in the burger while improving its flavor.
In 2017, Health Care Without Harm conducted a six-month study on the impact blended burgers with a group of four Massachusetts hospitals. There were three goals for this blended burger pilot:
- Evaluate the effectiveness of blended burgers for meat reduction.
- Assess blended burger potential for increasing access to more sustainably raised meat, without increasing costs.
- Learn about the reception to the blended products from diners.
Participants in the pilot could purchase a blended product from their vendors or make their own blended product in-house. The only requirement for participation was that the meat in the blended product be raised without non-therapeutic antibiotics.
Of the four hospitals, one purchased a blended beef burger comprised of 40 percent mushrooms and 60 percent local, antibiotic-free beef made by a local butcher. This hospital also purchased a bulk blend, with the same meat-to-mushroom ratio, that they used in a variety of dishes that called for ground meat.
The other three hospitals purchased a blended burger that was 20 percent mushrooms and 80 percent antibiotic-free beef from a major food distributor.
The four hospitals implemented and marketed the blended dishes in different ways. In the retail setting, two hospitals replaced their all-beef burger with a blended burger, one offered it as a weekly special, and one served it alongside a traditional burger. Three of the four hospitals promoted the blended burger with marketing initiatives such as point-of-sale signage and one offered taste tests.
“We did a sampling of the beef/mushroom burger at the monthly Cooking Up Health booth. We asked, ‘Would you buy this burger here?’ We got overwhelmingly favorable results. People can’t wait to have them available on a daily basis — and that’s our plan.”
— Deborah P. Keane, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center food and nutrition services director
The blended burger pilot was successful in reducing the amount of meat served at participating
institutions. Over the six-month period, the four hospitals reduced their use of meat by 529 pounds, a reduction of 24 percent.
All the hospitals showed a meat reduction in accordance with the meat to mushroom ratio of the product they chose.
Therefore, the amount of meat used in burgers was reduced by 40 percent at hospital A and 20 percent in hospitals B, C, and D.
The hospitals varied in a number of factors, including size and number of times the blended burger was served. This led to significant differences in the meat reduction, in pounds, at each facility.
For example hospital C reduced meat by only 10 pounds because they sold only 50 blended burgers, whereas hospital D was able to reduce their meat by 192 pounds because as a larger facility they served 4,080 blended burgers.
While broad conclusions cannot be made from a small sample of hospitals with many uncontrolled variables, the results suggest that replacing a conventional burger with a blended burger yields a higher meat reduction than serving the blended and traditional burger side-by-side.
“You can lessen the meat provided and yet not feel like you are lessening the amount of meat you are eating.”
— Gary Weiss, Cooley Dickinson Health Care executive chef
All hospital participants were able to source pre-made patties with beef raised without antibiotics, suggesting that a blended product could, in fact, help health care institutions manage the cost of sustainably raised meat, which is often more expensive.
Hospital A reported their blended burger was $2.05 per pound less than an all-beef, local
antibiotic-free patty, and $0.05 less than an all-beef conventional burger. Hospital D reported the
blended burger was $0.04 cheaper per patty than the conventional all-beef patty. However, the
blended burger patty was smaller than the conventional patty, 3.75 ounces compared to 5.33 ounces respectively.
While this does make the blended burger more expensive on a per pound basis, on a per patty basis it reduces costs and brings it in line with federal dietary recommendations for meat consumption.
Participants reported a positive to neutral reception from their customers about the blended
burgers, indicating this approach may be a valid strategy for reducing meat with diners that don’t identify or commonly choose vegetarian or vegan options. Finally, three of the four hospitals indicated the nutritional profile of the blended burger allowed it to be served to patients on restricted diets that could not have otherwise chosen an all-beef patty.
“One of our goals with the UH Health System is to reduce our beef purchases. We have consistently lowered our beef purchases year over year. We felt that adding a blended burger to the menu was a way to satiate the customer’s appetite for beef, but to incorporate a unique way to lower the amount of beef in the burger. It also had great flavor.”
— Anthony P. Verona, University Health System culinary director
Serving blended burgers is a viable meat reduction strategy for health care institutions. Use of mushroom-beef blends can reduce the total amount of meat served in a hospital, without asking customers to completely give up comfort foods. Doing so also improves the nutritional profile of burger selections and contributes to environmental stewardship goals.
This pilot has demonstrated the blending approach is acceptable to customers as an alternative to all-beef burgers and that blending can be a cost-effective way to replace conventional meat with products that are sustainably raised.
In implementing a blended meat strategy, health care should evaluate products with attention to the mushroom-to-meat ratio that optimizes meat reduction, nutrition, and taste, and experiment with menuing and marketing strategies such as replacing a conventional burger with a blended burger versus serving the two burgers side-by-side. While this study focused on blending for burgers, health care should also consider blending for any ground meat dish to achieve a greater impact.