Finding Flavor on a Hospital Tray

February 13, 2015

Morrison Healthcare’s Chef RJ Harvey recently had the opportunity to work with the Center for Disease Control in a united effort to combat the rising levels of sodium consumed by the average person. Chef Harvey took the time to give us some insight into both his career and Morrison Healthcare’s work to provide more healthful and flavorful foods.

Compass Group: How did your journey to become a chef begin?

Chef RJ Harvey: At first it was the ingredients, taking something simple and turning it into something spectacular. As I grew in the business, it became about impacting people’s lives. As a young cook, I was eager to learn anything I could. I wanted to work with the best of the best and learn how to make award-winning, vanity type food. I got to travel the world working in restaurants and resorts, even on private yachts. I got to experience other cultures, cuisines and ingredients. When I came back to the states, I started working at an upscale private dining steakhouse and it was a chef’s dream. I focused solely on making the food taste the best it could; it was all about flavor. As time went on I noticed that I wasn’t really making an impact like I wanted to.

CG: How did you come to work with Morrison Healthcare?

Chef Harvey: I got a call from Cary Neff, our VP of culinary at Compass Group Healthcare, and he inquired if I would be interested in joining the Research and Development Team. With my background in culinary nutrition, I came on board and quickly became enamored with our mission and goals as a company. We were changing people’s lives! About a year into my position I became interested in finally getting registered as a dietitian, and after a grueling two year process, I got there. I was utilizing the knowledge I obtained about great tasting food and applying it to make great tasting food healthful. We developed award winning concepts such as Flavors 450 where great tasting, healthful, restaurant quality meals were prepared with less than 450 calories. We redesigned our patient menu to be lower in saturated fat, calories and sodium. These were the types of changes I had yearned for.

CG: Would you provide some background on the increased level of sodium in the average diet?

Chef Harvey: People often times confuse sodium with salt and while the sodium ingested is impacted by dietary salt intake, most of the sodium we consume is from processed foods. The main issue in the foodservice world is an increasing number of labor saving convenience foods that allow the industry to do more with less. We as an industry have relied on these products and have slowly shifted away from scratch-made foods alive with flavor and nutrition. The general consumer is already saturating their diet with processed foods at home and coupled with consuming meals on the go, it’s easy to see why we are consuming twice, even three times the amount of sodium we should.

CG: Why is this issue of particular concern for hospital patients and in the broader healthcare world?

Chef Harvey: When we break down the word healthcare, it’s easy to see we are in the business of caring for the health of others, but I suggest looking a step further. Hospitals are communal centers that should project health, wellness and vitality. Reducing sodium is just a piece of the puzzle, but it starts the conversation that health matters. For years, hospitals were removing the salt and not replacing it. Suddenly you have the negative connotation that hospital food is bland and boring. We recognized that flavor has to come first. Healthy foods must be cravable.

CG: How did you first become involved with the Center for Disease Control?

Chef Harvey: In February 2014, I was asked to speak on a panel of industry leaders at a sodium reduction event at the CDC in Atlanta.

CG: How did the sodium case study start?

Chef Harvey: Jessica Levings, a policy analyst for the CDC, spoke with me about creating a success story on a company in the industry. The CDC was interested in how we impact our food system. They looked to impact change by focusing on the smaller restaurant groups and self-operated food systems. Manufacturers aren’t going to produce more healthful items on a large scale unless larger companies, such as Compass Group, apply pressure on them to do so.

CG: What results did you see within Morrison Healthcare?

Chef Harvey: We not only reduced the sodium in many of our recipes and menus, but we were able to lean on our vendor partners and get products that were much lower in sodium dispersed throughout the industry.

Our Great Living patient menu demonstrated how we can engineer a menu with elevated flavor and reduce the unnecessary amounts of less healthful ingredients.

CG: Going forward, how is Morrison Healthcare continuing to serve more healthful foods?

Chef Harvey: We’re continually committed to improving the health and wellness of the communities we serve. We aligned ourselves with industry leading organizations such as Partnership for a Healthier America, Healthcare without Harm and Healthier Hospitals Initiative. Our culinary, retail and marketing teams work closely with our nutrition and wellness department to develop, market and sell better for you menu items. We made commitments to ensure 60% of the items we serve meet a healthful criteria, which includes reduced sodium.

Chef RJ Harvey is a wellness manager on the Nutrition and Wellness team at Morrison Healthcare. For more information on Chef Harvey’s work with the CDC, take a look at the full report here.

Looking to reduce sodium in your own diet? Chef Harvey shared one of his favorite recipes from Morrison Healthcare’s Great Living menu.

Chicken Tortilla Soup

chicken tortilla soup

Yields: 4 servings

Preparation Time: 15 minutes

Cooking Time: 30 minutes


1/4 cup: Onions, Yellow, Fresh, Diced

3/4 tsp: Garlic Cloves, Fresh, Peeled, Chopped

3-1/8 tbsp: Peppers, Bell, Green, Fresh, Diced

3-1/8 tbsp: Peppers, Bell, Red, Fresh, Diced

1-1/8 tsp: Oil, Olive/Canola Oil 25/75 Blend

1/4 cup: Celery, Fresh, Diced

1/4 cup: Tomatoes, Diced in Juice, No Added Salt, Canned, Including Liquids

2-1/8 tsp: Tomato Paste, No Salt Added

3/4 tsp: Spice, Cumin, Ground

3/4 tsp: Seasoning, Mexican, Salt Free

2-1/2 ounce: Corn, Whole Kernel, Frozen, Drained

3/8 cup: Beans, Great Northern, Canned, Drained, Rinsed

1/8 ounce: Base, Chicken, Low Sodium

2-1/8 cup: Water, Cold

4-1/4 ounce: Chicken, Diced, White/Dark, FC, Frozen

1-1/8 tbsp: Cornstarch

1-1/3 ounce: Tortilla, Corn

2-1/8 tbsp: Water, Cold

1-1/8 tbsp: Cilantro, Fresh, Chopped


  1. In a large pot set to medium-high heat, saute the onions, celery, garlic and peppers together in the olive oil blend. Continue to stir and saute for 3-5 minutes until the vegetables are soft, be careful not to burn the garlic.
  2. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, cumin, mexican seasoning, corn and white beans to the sautéed vegetables. Stirring constantly for another 5-7 minutes until the liquid in the tomatoes has been cooked down and the vegetables are nice and soft.
  3. Add the water and the chicken base, stir to combine and bring to a simmer. Add the chicken and allow to return to a simmer.
  4. Dice the corn tortillas into 1 inch squares.
  5. Combine the cornstarch with the water and add to the simmering soup. Once the soup has thickened slightly add the diced tortillas and cilantro.
  6. Continue to simmer for an additional 3-5 minutes. Transfer the soup into appropriate containers and hold at 140 F until service.