Jeanne Jones, a nationally known food consultant on healthy gourmet meals and author of 14 books on healthful eating, is about to take on a new challenge: hospital food.
"The worst institutional food is in hospitals, where people need the freshest, most nutritious food available to them," she said. "Hospital food can kill you."
Jones is working with Scripps Memorial Hospitals to introduce an all-health-food menu for patients and employees. Starting Aug. 1, patients who have paid for Jewel Service will eat meals Jones planned. At the Scripps hospitals here and in Encinitas, Jewel Service includes fine china, crystal glasses, a wine list and waiters.
Health food should be synonymous with fabulous food, not deprivation, Jones said.
"I was trained classically and then put the nutritional overlay on it," she said. "I planned an alternate menu for the Four Seasons hotel chain that was low-sodium, low-cholesterol, low-fat and at the same time visually beautiful and delicious."
Scripps officials said that by the end of the year a flexible menu planned by Jones will be available for all patients and employees.
Jones said her menu incorporates most of the dietary restrictions placed on many patients. "It's a gutsy move for Scripps," she said. "Most hospitals have 10 to 12 therapeutic menus. Then there's the regular menu that's so high in fat it can give you coronary artery disease if you didn't already have it."
The idea to revamp Scripps' food began when a hospital staff member decided Jewel Service should accommodate everybody, said Phyllis Allen, who directs fund raising for the hospital. "The Jewel Service was planned for pure gastronomical enjoyment. But it wasn't available to those on diabetic diets or coronary-restricted diets," she said.
Allen said the idea grew as administrators decided that all the food in the hospitals should be more healthy. "It's just one of those ideas that you know is perfect," Allen said.
Len Sasso, director of food and nutritional services at Scripps, said the new menu will give the hospital "a competitive edge."
"I think it's exciting. This sets a standard and is also an educational process for patients. To my knowledge, no other hospital is doing what we are, to the extent we are."
Jones said she intends to improve the hospital menu by making the food healthier. The hospital kitchen will bake chicken instead of defrosting frozen prepared meals, she said. Soup will be made from stock, instead of poured out of a can. Brown rice will replace white rice.
"I take the guidelines of someone else's menu and make it excellent, delicious food," she said.
Dr. Stephen Nozetz, chairman of nutrition for Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, said hospitals serve restricted diets to patients according to their physician's instructions. "We need a healthy menu for everyone that tastes good. Hospital food is pretty standard," he said. "The new menu will help make a hospital stay, if not pleasant, at least more tolerable."
Jones said the price of a hospital stay will not increase because of the new menu. Whether the food is pre-packaged or made at the hospital, the cost of preparation remains the same, she said.
Jones said her interest in food began when as a young girl she watched a chef prepare the family's meals in her home in Newport Beach. "I always wanted to make the show-off things like souffles. But he made me learn how to make soup stock," she said. "Gourmet just means from scratch. All our grandmothers were gourmet cooks."
She majored in art in college, and friends say that artistic talent comes across in the appealing way she presents food. She started on her path as a food expert during a 1969-1971 stint in Mexico City.
While in Mexico, Jones, who has never been on a diet, started a dieter's group called Kilo Kounters. She used recipes based on the Diabetic Exchange Food List, a list that tells diabetics what they can eat and how to achieve a balanced diet.
Her recipes were poured into her first book, "The Calculating Cook," published in 1972. Then came more books, and consulting work.
"Without knowing it, what I was doing was staying on the crest of a wave," she said. "America is a fitness-conscious society."