The overall goal of WVU Medicine is to improve the health of citizens of the region.

Lately, that philosophy has been enhanced internally, with a series of dietary initiatives aimed at giving employees and visitors, as well as patients, healthier eating choices.

The enterprise has long championed exercise and fitness initiatives through its Wellness Program and is extending that, with support from WVU Medicine leadership and recommendations from the recent Employee Engagement Survey, into the dietary world. It started with healthier menu items for patients in 2011 and has expanded into choices in the Ruby Memorial cafeteria and the vending machines nearby.

“Our mission is to provide for the health and well-being of our patients and our employees,” Mike Ortiz, assistant vice president of Support Services, said. “As an institution of health promotion, it’s just the right thing to do.”

The Wellness Program conducts health screening profiles for employees, which not only gives them goals to stay fit but can give them breaks on insurance costs.

Part of the aim of the new healthy menu choices is to help employees “be successful in achieving healthy numbers,” Ortiz said.

The vending machines near the cafeteria will include healthier snacks, such as organic yogurt, Greek yogurt, hummus and chips and crackers lower in fat than traditional choices.

The new patient menu features healthier options, such as whole wheat buns and Greek yogurt. Similar healthy options are also planned for the Ruby cafeteria.

The biggest advance, Ortiz said, is in the choices being offered.

The cafeteria will offer healthier options at its burger bar, such as angus or a higher grade of beef and choices like turkey burgers or black bean burgers. Greek yogurt, wheat buns and grilled vegetables are offered along with the burgers.

Another popular feature at the Ruby cafeteria is the vegan bar, which will continue to include recipes that lower the risk of heart disease.

The cafeteria has also added a salt-free, organic seasoning, stevia and Greek yogurt cream cheese. All mayonnaise-based salads are made with olive oil mayonnaise, which contains half the fat of traditional mayonnaise. The Metro Deli features all natural meats and cheeses, as well as whole grain and light breads. At the salad bar, customers have healthier choices for dressings, including vinaigrette.

The drink choices will be bolstered with healthier options to soda. The cafeteria has converted to organic teas, and fruit-infused water will soon be added to the menu.

“We’re working with the Wellness Program to develop a more holistic approach to nutrition,” Oritz said. “We’re looking at saturated fat, trans fat, sugar and calorie content.”

In the next few weeks, even foods such as french fries will become healthier, thanks to new infrared hot air convection ovens, which will replace oil fryers. The new ovens will dramatically reduce the fat content in traditionally fried food.

Ortiz said the healthy menu items will be offered at a comparable or lower price than the traditional menu items.

To help integrate the menu changes, the cafeteria will offer samples of new menu items to customers in line.