New York's public hospitals serve plant-based meals by default

In March, NYC Health + Hospitals' 11 campuses started offering plant-based chef's specials for lunch. Now, it's expanding that plant-forward shift to include dinner. At Lincoln, Metropolitan, and Woodhull Hospitals, culturally diverse, plant-based meals are the primary dinner options. Vegan menu items are default, with meat and dairy offered as options.

Dishes include Southern black-eyed pea casserole with corn bread, sancocho (a Caribbean stew with tubers and roots) and arroz con gandules y calabaza (rice with pigeon peas and squash).

NYC Health + Hospitals is the largest municipal health care system in the US, providing services to more than one million New Yorkers annually. In addition to serving meat-free meals for inpatients, NYCHH also runs a 'Plant-Based Lifestyle Medicine Program' for people with diabetes, prediabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease or health concerns related to obesity.

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According to the Better Food Foundation, which partnered with NYC to launch the initiative, "Only 1% of patients identify as vegetarian or vegan, but over 50% of eligible patients are choosing one of the plant-based meals. (Due to certain medical conditions, not all patients are eligible to receive plant-based meals.) What's more, approximately 95% of patients who choose one of the chef's specials are satisfied with their meal." 

Along with improving patient outcomes and decreasing carbon emissions, going plant-based is also expected to reduce costs. Sodexo, the hospitals' food service provider, anticipates that serving vegan meals by default will save USD 1 million annually when implemented at all 11 of the system's hospitals.

Behavioral nudges like creating a healthier default are effective strategies to help people change their diets. Taking it broader, which norms can your organization flip to prompt your audience to make better choices?

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