Hospitals and national quick-serve chains may seem odd bedfellows, but a new program in Orlando is pairing the two in an effort to promote healthy meals.

The Healthy 100 program from Florida Hospital approves restaurant recipes that are low in fat, cholesterol, sodium, and sugar, and high in fiber and whole grains. Chains and independent restaurants submit their lighter, healthier recipes to the hospital’s team of dietitians, who review the dishes and the program guidelines. If the dish meets the eight-point criteria, the restaurant can promote it on the menuboard as a Healthy 100 item.

“If something doesn’t meet the criteria, we let them know what they can do to meet it,” says Sherri Flynt, manager of Florida Hospital’s Center for Nutritional Excellence. “For example, they can reduce the sodium and use a spice or herb to flavor the food. Overall, sodium is still one of the biggest challenges because, when you take fat content out, you lose some flavor.”

Menu items at Central Florida–based Chick-fil-A and Panera Bread restaurants were recently certified by Florida Hospital under the Healthy 100 program.

Chick-fil-A’s grilled chicken nuggets were one of the Healthy 100–approved items. The nuggets, which are 97 percent whole-breast-meat chicken and 3 percent spice, debuted nationwide early last year. They’re one of the reasons the brand’s kids’ meal contains nearly 60 percent fewer calories and 85 percent less fat than most other quick-serve kids’ meals, says Cindy Coffman, Chick-fil-A’s Central Florida area marketing director.

“We hope to share this formula with other markets, since it’s a win-win for everybody. It only takes working with organizations that want to help educate families on how to make healthier life choices.”

“Our guests appreciate the healthy option for the kids’ meal,” Coffman says. “We have also seen that many adults are ordering these grilled nuggets. They are easy to eat on the go.”

Chick-fil-A’s Central Florida stores began working with Florida Hospital at the same time the nuggets launched in 2012. The grilled nuggets are now accompanied by a Healthy 100 icon on menuboards. “Being endorsed as the first entrée from a quick-service restaurant in [the program] was very exciting,” Coffman says.

Chick-fil-A’s Central Florida units are the only group of stores in the chain working with a program like the Florida Hospital initiative, Coffman says.

“We do, however, hope to share this formula with other markets, since it’s a win-win for everybody,” she says. “It only takes working with organizations that want to help educate families on how to make healthier life choices.”

Two of Panera Bread’s new menu items also carry the Healthy 100 icon at the chain’s Central Florida restaurants.

“We began working with Florida Hospital about two to three years ago, before they even launched the program,” says Eryn Catter, director of public relations and sales for Panera Bread’s Central Florida region. “We have been looking for unique ways to partner with them.”

Panera Bread submitted a handful of menu items to Florida Hospital, and the two approved dishes were the chain’s new Power Breakfast Egg White Bowl with Roasted Turkey and the Power Chicken Hummus Bowl. The two “Hidden Menu” items—lighter, healthier dishes that Panera only publicized via social media—have been a “huge hit” with the chain’s customers, Catter says. “I think the items are just more appealing to those looking for high-fiber and protein-packed meals.”

Catter is not aware of other Panera divisions around the U.S. that are working with health-care systems on similar programs, “but that does not mean they are not doing so,” she says.

Florida Hospital began the Healthy 100 program with national chains and 16 local, independent restaurants that the health-care system already had relationships with, Flynt says. She says she expects the program to grow as other independent and chain restaurants learn about its benefits.

“As restaurants add more of these Healthy 100 items, it is a great way to keep their customer base,” Flynt says. “We are very excited to see the industry respond in such a positive way … and give their customers healthy options.”

The Food and Drug Administration’s new menu-labeling rules that go into effect this year will also encourage quick-service chains to revamp their menus and seek out programs like Healthy 100, she says.

“It will make them more aware of developing healthy meals,” Flynt says.

Menu Innovations, Web Exclusives, Chick-fil-A, Panera Bread