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Hospital Food

hospital food

-photo from toyfoto on flickr

I was quite inspired yesterday when I saw an article in the New York Times about healthy hospital food.  Healthy hospital food?  Yes, this term need not be an oxymoron.

You may want to take a look at the entire article as it is filled with detail and solutions (on a small level, though it’s a start) to our national health crisis.  What health crisis?  One-third of Americans are diabetic or pre-diabetic which in the coming years could cost our system billions of dollars, along with other diseases related to lifestyle.

Last week I discussed Mark Bittman’s proposed soda tax as a possible idea for dealing with this looming crisis.  The response?  Most comments were not in favor of such a tax.  I want to thank all who left comments on the soda tax post –they were informative and I enjoyed the lively debate.

Today, I want to take a different approach by looking at examples of individuals and institutions that are changing our food landscape through innovation and new ideas.

Here’s a great example.  More than two years ago, in the wake of dismal patient food ratings, New Milford Hospital revamped its food service operation.  It also instituted an “aggressive healthy-food initiative.”  Some of the changes included eliminating the cafeteria’s deep fryer, as well as no longer using canned or processed foods.

“The hospital’s food service rating soared,” said Marydale Debor, a former vice president of external affairs at New Milford Hospital and a co-founder of the web site Plow to Plate, a grass-roots effort to bring local food and agriculture to the hospital and the community. Ms. Debor also established the cafe’s daily Senior Suppers, which became so popular with senior citizens that a second sitting was added.

The program has its costs and the chef explains how he has dealt with increased costs:

Buying local is expensive and labor intensive, Mr. Gold said, so he offsets the increased cost by buying less red meat and serving low-cost alternatives: protein-rich quinoa citrus salad and portobello burgers, for example. With help from community volunteers, Mr. Gold also installed a rooftop garden.

My father works at a university hospital and growing up I used to go to work with him on the weekends, so growing up I spent my fair share of time in a hospital cafeteria. I don’t recall great offerings back then, though happily, he says things have changed, “in previous decades the choices in my hospital cafeteria were limited, now, however, there is a full array of  healthy food.”

So, here’s a new topic for us to chew on: hospital food.  Leave a comment and let us know your thoughts on the type of program the New Milford Hospital has implemented.  Do you think programs such as this can have an impact around the country?  Do you have other ideas?  Better ideas?  Let us know!


posted on August 1, 2011, 82 comments

  1. Gloria Gabrych

    I was in the hospital for one week… not only was the food lousy but between my diabetes and other nutritional needs there was only about 5 things on the menu I could eat! It was lousy! I was fortunate enough to have some one bring some meals from home plus they allowed me to use their refrigerator so I could put some things there like plain non fat yogurt with fresh fruit (Berries). I was told I was eating better than anyone else in the hospital! Getting home and back to my usual routine was very much appreciated!

  2. PAMI @ WWW.PAMI.US

    I just got out of 2 weeks in the hospital and since I am a grain free vegan it was a challenge. I ate a lot of fruit salad, lettuce salad, and steamed vegges with baked potato. That is when they could remember that corn and rice etc. were grains and that dairy and butter was animal product. I don’t recommend every having to eat in a hospital.

  3. gwen blidner

    As my daughter was in hospital dying – I never, never let her have a hospital meal. Several doctors were amazed that I provided all the food .
    I was on holiday when she visited and was rushed to have surgery – her 3 month stay – my driving back and forth daily and then returning home – she was with us for several weeks until she passed . Not one meal was from the hospital .
    Meals need not be elaborate – just need to be from nature and not too processed.
    On my way to the hospital for breakfast she got fresh fruit and I took 2 whole wheat – or spelt tortillas – stuffed them with either scrambled eggs or healthy cheese (not processed). She got fresh juices too.
    Many easy meals can be made
    |Gwen Blidner

    • colormepink

      I’m so sorry for your loss. I’m sure your daughter appreciated that last effort of love.

    • Lynne P.

      I am also sorry for your loss. Reading of your labor of love touched my heart. A few years ago my dad died of stomach cancer. In the year before he died I began cooking meals each day for my parents. (My mom has Alzheimer’s and can no longer cook.) I introduced them to the joys of REAL food. It was a bittersweet experience, as I’m sure yours was as well. Thanks for sharing.

    • I too am touched by your comment. Made me cry. I’m so sorry for your loss. When my mother was in the hospital 5 years ago, I fixed every meal for her too. We lived out of town and so I rented a hotel room with a kitchen to make them for her.

  4. colormepink

    This is a much needed area of change. My grandmother passed away 5 years ago and we spent more than 3 weeks in the hospital with her. I was unbelievably disgusted by the choices that were available to the patients and in the cafeteria with McDonald’s only steps away outside the front door. How can people possibly get better off margarine? Shouldn’t a hospital dietician know this one thing at the very least is not food and has no business in a healthy diet? I was continually frustrated that the only healthy option was the salad bar where the lettuce mix was invariably wilted and brown. I’m terrified what would happen if I ended up in the hospital and had to rely on them to feed me. I feel I would leave in worse condition than I entered.

  5. Regina @ none

    Yes hospital food can be very unhealthy. Its important for us to encourage a change. Our hospital offer a vegetarian entree and a good salad bar daily.That’s a big improvement However being a person with allergies rarely can I eat the healthy salads with spinach or large amounts of Feta cheese.But I sure let them know when I like something. I even offer recipes occasionally.

  6. Suzanne

    I love this idea of Senior Suppers! Thanks for writing about it, Elana.

  7. Cassandra Goduti @ cagoduti.blogspot.com

    I have spent a couple of times in the hospital, and every time a tray comes up their is usually something I don’t like on my tray. Although the recent hospital I went to gave almost everything a la carte. I never liked the sandwiches.

  8. Robin Lutsky @ thenestdesigns.com

    I think it’s a great idea. People in hospitals need nutrious food as well as the stressed out staff and the families who come to visit their loved ones.

  9. Sandra Morris

    That’s weird, good idea but weird to me because when I was in the hospital over 3 years ago for a week I got some pretty tasty food. Honestly, any time I’ve been at a hospital over the years, visiting or staying the food has always been pretty good and about as healthy as the food I would make at home! Even the broth they gave me was good.

    It’s a positive step that things are going to change for the better where needed.

  10. Cassi Friz @ cassifriz.com

    when i gave birth to my son, i never expected to have to live in the hospital for 2 weeks. the kitchen had a vague understanding of ‘gluten-free’, but not enough to give me peace about consuming the foods.

    the ordeal ended up with me living mostly on Odwalla juice for 2 weeks. i supplemented with occasional outside food, but only left the hospital 2x due to breastfeeding (and trying to maintain it, which was way harder than i ever expected without the support of hospital staff).

    having fresh-made foods could revolutionize healing in our hospitals! imagine if the bodies were cared for by medicine and by giving them the tools to heal as well!

  11. Kristine

    We have nothing but good things to say about Swedish Hospital in Seattle. They provided us with a gluten free menu and unlimited food 24/7 with all items available a la carte.. The meals were served on beautiful rustic country stoneware,with napkins and napkin rings and delivered by a person in a uniform that looked like they were from one of the finest restaurants. Every food item was tasty and hot..and we are foodies (my daughter is a food photography and food editor).

    I was surprised as how extensive the menu offerings were including items like broiled salmon, smoothies, coffee drinks to rival Starbucks. All in all; 5 stars!

  12. Elizabeth Gail Wieda

    Halleluia! Finally someone is trying to reboot hospital food! I have long been amazed at the poor quality and choices in hospital cafeterias served to both customers and patients. If anyone should be health-oriented in food, it should be a hospital! Anything this gentleman can do will be appreciated and perhaps- in another 20 years- the ability to provide good, healthful food just might catch on. I love his rooftop garden– more power to him! Gail Wieda

  13. Sarah

    I had a baby two months ago by c-section so I was in the hospital for a few days. I have gluten, dairy, soy, egg, sugar and corn intolerance, so I called the hospital before to find out how much food I should bring. I was told that all meals now were catered to you and what you could eat. I had to see it with my own eyes to believe it.

    The nurses that were there for me insisted on having a dietitian come and talk to me to find out what I could eat. I had a list of questions about how the food is prepared and asked about specific dishes that were on their menu. She went and spoke to the chefs and then put everything on my account so when I called in my order, I was able to get everything prepared the way I needed it. I only had to supplement a few things. I had steamed fish, hamburgers, fresh fruit…and did not have one reaction! I was quite pleased and delighted that they had made this change.

  14. Amy

    I think it’s great that they are buying local, and not using canned or processed food. Community involvement for the rooftop garden is awesome. Now if the airlines would just follow suit….

  15. I was in the hospital for a number of months associated with malnutrition and anorexia. The food was not nutritious, but who cares as long as your trying to gain weight? Fried foods, sugar filled desserts, soy burgers…all nutrient disasters. I do believe that implementing health food options, even those for treating people with anorexia (increasing calories), is the best move for both physical AND mental health.

  16. Karen@Cook4Seasons @ cook4seasons.com

    Fabulous post, Elana. My mom just got out of hospital, then a rehab center for a total of two weeks. She is used to eating fresh, whole foods and lost a lot of weight due to the deplorable food options there (she was already thin and frail.) Thankfully they allowed me to bring in my own, so I stocked her up with fresh fruit, quinoa and kale and homemade soups which carried her through.
    Oh…and they can’t find it in their health regimen to adopt these foods, but they bring coffee and fruit soaked in corn syrup every day!
    Bravo to New Milford. I will now watch this closely and work towards a similar adaptation in our hospitals, one bite at a time.

  17. Jan

    I was in the hospital last week for surgery and before I was knocked out told them to make sure they put down I had Celiac Disease and could not have any gluten. They started telling everyone I was allergic to wheat. I had to explain to them it wasn’t just wheat I had to stay away from… OMG! Talk about feeling helpless in a hospital when you have to rely on them to bring you your meals. When I woke up later that night and asked the nurse that brought me my tray if it was gluten free she said “!All our food is free here. Don’t worry about having to pay for it. Just enjoy it.”!!! lol If people that work in hospitals (nurses, doctors,etc.) aren’t trained in what a gluten free diet is then how can we expect restaurants to be??? And you can bet I was also worried about cross-contamination. Luckily, I had no appetite and only had to stay overnight!

  18. Lauren

    I personally am on a gluten free, sugar free, low starch, low dairy diet (read: I eat meat, veggies, eggs, and almonds), so I am very sensitive to others’ dietary needs. When my grandpa was in the hospital and a rehabilitation center, he required a sodium free diet for both his high blood pressure and the fact that everything he ate tasted super salty to him (an effect of his drugs/illness. Everything from unsalted nuts to cottage cheese was too salty). It was like PULLING TEETH to get a low sodium diet for him (much less what he really needed, sodium free), as the food service staff kept explaining to my family that no additional salt was added to the meals. Well, that didn’t mean that the pre-packaged food didn’t already have salt in it. So here we are, feeding my poor dying grandfather food and insisting he eat it because we were assured that “no salt” was a part of his diet plan. When they started feeding him sausages and obviously not homemade sloppy joes, I knew what the problem was and why he wasn’t eating. It was all chock full of excessive amounts of sodium. It finally took threatening to pull him out of the facility for them to break and swear up and down that no salt would be fed to my grandfather, but unfortunately he didn’t make it long enough to test out the new agreement. I have very large doubts that they would have actually complied anyway.

    I know that our school cafeterias get a lot of press in the need for a major overhaul in terms of fatty, fried, pre-packaged garbage food (not to mention the food allergy issue), but the hospital cafeteria system is somehow lurking in the shadows and not getting the attention it also needs. Both institutions needs to run from the pre-packaged and processed slop, and actually cook honest, healthy meals.

    That is my rant for the day. :) Thank you for your post on this topic!

  19. Susan Wong

    I was in the hospital 4 years ago and the food was terrible. Even after I was diagnosed, they sent me biscuits and gravy. The diatition did not have a clue. She came to see me so I could tell her what celiac was. A real disaster.

  20. Anna

    I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of food in the Kaiser cafeteria when my dad was there a few years back. They had a great salad bar and a wide variety of healthy options that were freshly prepared. I still remember one of their tofu dishes with fondness! The quality of the food the patients got was not quite as good. Certainly edible, but not as fresh and ironically they failed to follow their own guidelines. My dad was in the cardiac unit (which covered several floors) and on a low sodium diet, however each meal came with a salt packet! Having a good sense of humor he explained the irony of the situation to them. I’d be interested to go back to the hospital and find out if it’s changed since then.

  21. I think that with all the attention everyone has paid to school lunches and what kids eat, it’s about time that we start paying attention to hospital food. School lunches are bad, but most school at least pretend to attempt to serve healthy food. They are also held to the ADA standards and even IEP’s for kids with food allergies and celiac disease. It’s absolutely appalling how horrible most of the hospitals I’ve been in are with managing a diet that’s required for a disease. I can understand them not wanting to train their staff to cater to fad diets, but that’s not what this situation is. There is a medically necessity for those of us with celiac or gluten intolerance to have a diet completely free of gluten and cross-contamination, in the same way that low-sodium, or diabetics diets must be managed.

  22. I used to work next to a hospital (Paoli in PA) and let me say that their food was terrific! We used to actually go to the hospital for the food. I remember I had this nice salmon meal that day, everybody was asking me where it had come from.

  23. The small town hospital that our physician practices out of has a flexible menu to accommodate within reason someones particular diet. All you have to do is write your request on the menu slip and they will do their best to serve it or find a compromise.

    In one of the local big hospital hubby was in a few a years ago, the dietician came in and actually ARGUED with him about his not eating the high carb meals they were serving him as a diabetic. It was chicken-n-noodles that you had to hunt for the chicken, mash potatoes and gravy, peas, a dinner roll, and canned peaches in heavy syrup! And some hospitals wonder why they can’t get a diabetics blood sugars stabilized!

    I just wish the American Diabetic/Dietetic Association would read the current research that says that the majority of diabetes on a low carb diet have stabler blood sugars, need less meds and have fewer complications. You have to wonder where their loyalties lie. It doesn’t appear to be with the diabetic! All we can hope for is the insurance companies figure out the recommended diabetic diet is costing them money and start pushing for the changes because the ADA isn’t listening to us.

  24. Sonya

    How surprising to read about a fairly local-to-me hospital on your blog! New Milford isn’t the closest hospital to us, but it’s one where my 16 year old might be interning this fall. I had no idea, kudos to them!

    I’m honestly terrified of having to stay in a hospital at this point. Not that it’s likely, but if I did end up there, even the medications would be a source of concern.

  25. I’ve only been in the hospital when I had my three children. I don’t eat, I just can’t. The “food” they bring simply turns my stomach. I doesn’t look like REAL food, or smell like it, and it just boggles my mind the anyone thinks it is acceptable to feed ANYONE like that, let alone someone in the hospital!!! I agree, it is an area needing massive improvement! Although, if Americans would just start eating REAL food to begin with, perhaps not so many would be in the hospital at all…

  26. Karen

    It seems sad to me that hospitals are so far behind on healthy eating options. One would hope that they, as part of the health care system, would make setting an example a priority. Alas, that has not been my experience. When my Mom was in the hospital in Ohio/Pennsylvania, the options for her and for those of us visiting were so bad that I left and ran to Walmart (not a place I like to shop but it was close by) and got some safe food for me and some edible options for her.

    The local hospital here (Oregon) is better and gives the illusion of healthy options until you take a serious look at what they offer up. It’s still cereals and grains and milk and butter. As someone gfcfsfef, sugar and almond free, it can be difficult. I generally end up with an apple. One thing I would LOVE it to see an end to the pre-made salads and sandwiches. It’s clear they have the items to make something safe for me but they don’t make to order. It’s nearly impossible to pick the cheese off a salad and the other salad options? Topped with slivered almonds. Now, I love almonds….which is probably how I ended up developing the allergy. What doesn’t have cheese or almonds on…has egg. and they chop the egg up. Just please, let me order a salad and tell you what I’d like on it so I don’t have to take a chance on being sick….

  27. A topic that has been close to my daily activities for many years. I am a swallowing therapist that has worked in hospitals for many years and I am just now seeing the changes that have been needed for years. I work for the Cleveland Clinic and about 5-6 years ago they started an initiative to make the food in the hospitals healthier as well as the selections for the visitors. They, unfortunately, had a contract that made it impossible for them to get rid of McDonald’s but they have made so many healthy options available for family and now for patients. They have been voted the #1 Hospital for Cardiology in the US for some 17 years in a row yet they were not promoting a healthy diet by virtue of the restaurants they allowed in the hospital. Finally…someone has made the necessary changes and they are practicing what they preach.
    HOWEVER…and this is a big however….the patients and employees of the hospital were up in arms about the fact that all junk food was being replaced with healthy alternatives and soda would no longer be available. So…the other side of the coin is that there is a lot of push back to this change that is so badly needed. The folks who read this blog already get it…healthy food keeps you healthy…the majority of the world has not caught on to that or they choose to ignore it. We need more grass roots campaign’s to help people see that the choices they make today about food and what they eat will seriously impact their health as they age. Our problem with healthcare costs can be directly related to unhealthy eating. I see it every day with people who end up costing the system millions of dollars because they choose to be obese, overeat, not exercise and they end up with diabetes, joint deterioration, high blood pressure, and cardiac issues which lead to stroke, heart attack and limb amputation due to diabetes. Ok…going on too long but you get the picture!

    • Judy

      Please don’t perpetuate the myth that life-style is the cause of Diabetes. People do not choose to be diabetics. The current research coming out says type 2 diabetes is an inherited disease and true type 1 is more an auto-immune disease similar to my understanding of Celiacs Disease.

  28. AnnMarie Deis

    AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME idea!!!!!!!! I love the rooftop garden. :) I stayed in a hospital seven years ago for a week and was horrified at the food and that was BEFORE I had taken the path down the natural, local food route. When I had my son four years ago, I made meals and froze them so my husband and I could have homemade meals during the first few weeks at home. My mother made a trip each of the three days we were there and retrieved the meals and let them thaw on the 30-minute ride to the hospital. Hospital food? BLECH! School food? UNBELIEVABLE! BTW, I saw an article in a magazine a year or so ago about a school district in Wisconsin (???) that had instituted an organic-only food plan for one year as an experiment. The result? The students loved it! I have always thought that had I gone into my life’s passion of teaching that I would have planted a nice garden/greenhouse to inspire a love of growing food. THANK YOU for the post. There is hope yet!!!!! :)

  29. AnnMarie Deis

    Oh, yeah! That picture is one of the most disgusting things ever! LOLOLOLOL!!!!!!!

  30. I’ve had several hospital stays and they’ve never listed to even the doctor saying or writing in the chart that somone just having spinal surgery on their cervical spine cannot open their mouth to eat a hamburger, much less serve gluten-free food. Then, the nurses admonish you for not eating the food you can’t eat anyway!

    I say yes to the new programs! It doesn’t make sense to go to the hospital for getting better only to have the hospital contraindicate that! Maybe they need Jamie Oliver!

  31. When my daughter was born, I couldn’t believe the nastiness of the food. I suppose that for hospital food, it wasn’t terrible, as I had no restrictions, but still, what a difference from the high quality organic food I had been eating while pregnant. Hospitals should attempt to promote health, not serve Mountain Dew.

    Just another reason to give birth at home. And to TAX SODA! LOL:D

  32. Karen

    I had major surgery roughly 2 1/2 years ago. The hospital where I stayed was really accommodating, especially given I wasn’t allowed solid food from the night before until the morning after my procedure. They brewed the mint tea bags I brought in for nausea and when I could finally have solid food the nurse was great about sorting out anything to which I had allergies, even fed me earlier than scheduled because she could tell I was doing better than expected. The first thing I got to eat post-op was fresh fruit.

    I also remember when I had my son the hospital where I delivered a few years before had amazing food. I think even my husband ordered a few things off the menu for himself. I wouldn’t say it was nutritious, mostly comfort food if you get my drift (this was about a year before I learned about my allergies), but it was still pretty darn good.

  33. JM Shephard

    After three days of my having nothing to eat because of kitchen errors, my hospital dietician angrily told me “Hospitals are not set up for special diets.”

  34. Camille Salvatore

    Great news… A hospital is an environment that many age levels share. It is about time that hospitals turn their focus on providing healthier meals and not just providing cutting edge medicine. The hospital should care about more than just patients. Everyone whom walks through their doors is a potiential advocate for the hospital. Good or bad. I have spent more than my fair share of time in a hospital either sick, birthing, taking care of ill toddlers and family members and the one thing I wish would have been better was “the food”. Staff changes, Dr.’s end their shifts, night turns to day and yet I still have to eat. Who wants to leave the hospital when you have to be there? Who wants a husband to leave so he can have better food. Family friendly and foodnow food friendly this is fantastic. I am glad they are moving towards a brighter better future.

  35. Kiran @ KiranTarun.com @ kirantarun.com/blog

    There are only a few hospital where I know its possible to get some decent meal. Mostly are hopeless. Sigh!

  36. Nana

    This is a wonderful article and I hope that other hospitals take note. It’s a marvelous idea to feed patients food that will help them to recover!

  37. Reiko

    About time we got rid of the irony. Not only is it important that patients are fed healthy food for the sake of recovery, but we also need more instances of “role-model food”. And what better place to set examples for healthy lifestyles than a hospital? :)

  38. Mom Steiner

    One needs to remember that when one is unfortunate to be hospitalized, various drugs are in play – anesthesia and pain killers. All of these alter our sense of taste and food often tastes awful when to an undruged pallet it would taste fine.

  39. Connie

    As someone who works in a hospital and sees some of the food offered, I am often appalled. I am also gluten intolerant and am hard-pressed to find anything I could ever eat. If we’re wanting our patients to change their diets, perhaps we should start with the hospital cafeterias to show how things could be done differently.

  40. Elizabeth King

    I was pleased to read about hospitals making their foods more nutritious & a roof top garden is a great help in this. I am from Canada & I was amazed that there was mention of chefs in regard to hospitals. I have been in hospital twice the first time when I was diagnosed with Celiac. I was quite ill at that time but when they finally gave me some food to eat it was awful. I remember gagging over the rice bread. On my second stay i lost weight because there wasn’t much choice for Gluten Free eating & I am not sure that they really understood my needs. Our meals in our local hospital are brought in from out of town as is the case in most of the hospitals here if not all. There is definitely room for improvement. I think good healthy food is half the battle of recovery. It plays a significant role.

  41. Norma

    It is ironic, don’t you think, that we go to the hospital because we are sick, but the poor quality of the food is detrimental to our health. It surely doesn’t make any sense. Actually, it doesn’t even make any sense if one considers the nutritional advice which much of the medical establishment hands out to patients. I feel so fortunate to have found your website, and some others, like Kelly’s Spunky Coconut. As a nation, we need to work hard to improve our food supply. Thank you for your excellent website, and yummy recipes, too!

  42. Jane Blomquist

    With any luck, barring an accident, I’ll never go to the hospital, ’cause I eat a gluten free, grain free, sugar free modified Paleo diet; and I won’t have to eat lousy food. When are doctors going to understand nutrition?

  43. Nell Shorrock

    On the first of June my husband was taken to hospital with a heart attack, after tests and more tests they told him he had Celiac. He had many more problems all related to Celiac. He was in hospital for 28 days. When the doctors let the kitchen know he had to be on a celiac
    diet, they actually started the same day.
    For the next 25 days, he ate the same thing for breakfast, for lunch and for dinner. His menu never changed. We could have filled out the menu on Sunday and they could actually have followed that for the next 25 days. .
    He got so sick of the same food, day after day, he actually stopped eating. That was when I knew I had to do something.
    So starting with this site, I looked up recipes and followed them exactly and would take up dinners to him every nite. He actually enjoyed eating on a gluten free diet.
    Educating the kitchen staff about gluten free would make it so much easier for the next person that has to eat their food.
    Making it mandatory would be the best thing ever.

  44. Tracy

    When my husband was in the new specialized Heart Center at our hospital, I went to the cafeteria to get us some lunch. I was appalled! The only choices for the Heart Center’s patients: fried chicken patties, fried chicken fingers, french fries and onion rings. Or pastries. I do hope for change.

  45. I’ve visited friends and family in the hospital and seen such disgusting, inedible stuff passed off as food. I always bring something for them to eat if they are willing to have it but since there aren’t mini-fridges, you can’t supply them with all their needs for very long. It’s really great that this situation is starting to shift. The irony is ridiculous. Thank you for sharing this!

  46. Susan

    Please put a big X through that disgusting plate of food on this article. Gross.

  47. Carol

    Good quality food is a necessity in most hospitals and other institutions, that is a given. But even when they serve the better stuff, they flunk.

    My husband was hospitalized for several days have a knee replacement. They had an awesome menu system that let you build your own meals. Hubby had fresh salads – mixed lettuces or spinach – with his lunches and suppers daily. And since he loves string beans and peas, usually had one of them and other veggies. He ate well – as he is used to. Unfortunately, it was too well. Blood tests kept coming back saying his blood was too thin. It was not until the day before they released him that they looked at his menus from his stay and told him to back off the greens, so they could keep poking the blood thinners in him to do what he was doing with his veggies!

    They just don’t get it. He would have been just as well off if they would have let him keep eating they way he was used to and forgotten about the blood thinners.

  48. Maria

    When I gave birth to my son 13 1/2 years ago, and then my older daughter 8 years ago, it was at the same hospital in Madison, WI. The food was wonderful! My tray was always filled with fresh, yummy food, and one day for lunch they actually gave me a hummus wrap that was chock-full of veggies. (At the time I still ate wheat.) They also made sure to give me an alternative to dairy because I’m lactose-intolerant. (Funny little story: somebody from the food service department actually called my room while I was in labor to verify that I really didn’t want cow’s milk. My husband told them to call back because I was busy having a baby.)

    So imagine my shock when, after giving birth to my youngest in another hospital in another city, I found myself more-or-less having to cobble together a decent meal out of the sparse offerings. The food was lifeless, tasteless, and most of it was processed. It was awful. Even the eggs were powdered. I just couldn’t believe that this was a place where people were expected to heal!

    So, I already know that hospitals can do better than they often do when it comes to food service. The question is, just like with our schools, how many are willing to see the payoff?

  49. Maegan

    It highlights the lack of education of providers in general about nutrition. I’m sure they get the tainted USDA food pyramid lecture in 2 hrs and that covers the nutrition requirement. Like most Americans, most have no clue. To think that what you put in your body on a daily basis doesn’t effect the disease or illness they are contending with just blows me away.
    Until there are no hospitals with a McDonalds inside it, then there is still work to be done. Hooray to this hospital for taking that bold step. However, It is really sad that it’s a bold step, it just seems like common sense to me.

    • Kristina

      Hello There,

      Just to clear things up yes some health care providers like doctors and nurses only get one nutrition maybe two classes in their schooling. However to become and registered dietitian it is a 5 year degree that includes and internship that is almost a year long. And I can tell you we study MORE than just USDA requirements. Out studies include disease state, management, pathology, anatomy and physiology, all the chemistry classes, pharmacolagy for some, cooking classes, food science, clinical nutrtion throughout the life cycle, disease prevention. We study all of the vitamins and minerals and how they work in our bodies down to the cellular level. All that and more and then state boards to become registered. So I think I have a little more education than just the USDA guidelines. So please be careful with what you say. it is hurtful. I am very well educated on nutrition and so are other registered dietitans.

  50. Louisa

    Hospitals suck at healthy food. Period.

    I was in a hospital for a couple days short of a month when I was a teenager. Being vegetarian and GF I expected a restricted diet. But seriously. I got instant white rice and a really awful iceberg lettuce salad for lunch and dinner. For breakfast, rice chex. Every day. For the whole month. How can they think that’s an OK way to feed people, health wise? I do not understand.

  51. Kristina

    Hello Everyone,

    I am so frustrated by this as well. I am a hospital dietitian I want to let you know that a lot of us (not all) Are frustrated by this as well. Let just get one thing out in the open. In most cases almost all the dietitian does NOT right the emnu for the hospital, nursing home or rehab. We have to report to the dietary superviosor who runs the kitchen. Some of them are certified dietary managers and have a little nutrition knowledge but it’s not a degree and a lot of them don’t even have that. They along with the chefs or cooks make the menu’s. Really in all the places i have worked over the years as well as other RD’s I know have had little say as to what does or does not go on the menu. We are required to look at it and make sure that carbs are counted corectly, each meals has a protein source, fruit or veggie and starch etc. But as for they types of food purchased, how it’s made or where it comes from we really have NO say. They put the types of foods on the menue that most of America want’s to eat. The types of people reading these types of blogs are not they typical patients we see in the hospital. You all are few and far between so when you do show up and want different things (healther foods, the stuff i would want too) the hospital more than likely wont have it. Alleriges are another problem because yes the dietitian who is doing mainly clinical work ( tube feedings, wound healing, patient education, interveinous feedins) do know what these allergies are but the cooks and dietary aides that fix your trays and bring you your meals may not know that gluten is in more than just bread. (this is why so many mistakes). We do educate them but these postitions have high turn over and other problems at times. So please do not blame the hospital dietitian’s. A LOT of us are constantly making suggestions and trying to make changes which almost always get shot down because most of America would rather have the pancakes and bacon instead of the whole oatmeal and fresh fruit. Please believe me when we say we are just as frustrated. My boss another RD hace celiac and we have been fighting tooth and nail for a gluten free diet that consists of more than 4 different types of griled chicken salads and rice.

    • Valerie

      I am another RD who has worked in a hospital and now works in Nursing Home/Assisted Living facilities, and I will second this comment 100%. We do not write the menus, have very little time to spend in the kitchen or working with Foodservice managers, chefs, and diet aids, so have little influence over what is served or how the kitchen runs. We spend our time with the medical staff doing clinical work on only the highest risk nutrition cases- those on tube and vein feeding, etc.

      Another point to consider- Part of the improvements in hospitals and nursing homes in patient care is giving patients what they WANT- respecting their rights and wishes more fully. And the foods they often want are not what most would consider healthy food. We don’t have the right to force healthier foods on those who don’t want them, and we can’t afford nor have the right to accept only patients who want to eat healthily. Indeed most of our patients are those who are NOT accustomed to eating healthily and are with us as a result. We might have a few minutes to spend with them on education, but we are rarely able to change a lifetime of habits with a few words shared when someone is feeling their worst and just wants to get back to home and normal life.

      And we have shrinking budgets and soaring food prices to consider(especially within the past year), and try to reduce waste as much as possible. In my facilities we offer healthier options that are usually special orders, but if we just serve brown rice or whole grain pasta to everyone, instead of white, we are flooded with complaints and most of it goes in the garbage- hundreds of dollars when you feed 600 people at once.

      So we are doing our best to offer healthier foods and make them more appealing and appetizing, and encourage more people to order them and educate them on the benefits, but the biggest “sellers” continue to be breaded meats, high fat potato dishes, cookies, cakes, ice creams, etc.

  52. Kristina

    I cannot type on this phone. I am laughing at all the errors I see in my last post. Sorry about that.

  53. Kristina

    Even if we did surve great healthy food. We are not going to change the typical American diet in their short stay with us. If we did they would not be right back here in a week or so like they are now.

  54. A hospital kitchen worker, on her own time, attended our local Celiac group meeting. She had no idea what a gluten-free diet was and nobody else at the hospital knew either. After realizing she had no idea how to help gluten-free patients, she came to the meeting to find out more. I always assumed they had some sort of dietary guidelines for special diets.

  55. Diane

    I love it!!!! I so wish so many others would take such an initiative. The problem is that it takes work and work and more work to investigate the farmers, convince the powers that be with the money that buying locally is worth the cost, and it takes EDUCATING the public that healthy food is not baked chips not fried. I want the schools, restaurants, hospitals, corporate cafeterias to all be on board. I’m tired of having only ONE local place that tries really hard to keep it healthy. (I live in the midwest where meat and potatoes and gravy are gourmet living!!!)

  56. Jami Fynboh

    Well, something needs to be done when it comes to hospital, rehab, and assisted living foods! My mother fell in May and hit her head, leaving us as a family, to spend a great deal of time in the above mentioned institutions over the past two and half months. The hopital that she was in didn’t know what in the cafeteria was gluten free, and instead handed me a paper on food alergies (I already know what I’m sensitive to, thank you very much). The rehab center did work very hard to keep my mom’s diet gluten free, and for that I am very apprecitive. However, the assisted living she is now in had to actually get an ORDER from the doctor to give her a gluten free food! Why…because the state requires it! So apparently people are no longer able to choose their own foods when living in a place where the state government is involved – how sad is that!?! As a matter of fact, when we went to shop for an assisted living that was suitable, most of them did not cater to a gluten free diet or even know what it was! So needless to say, over the past two and half months I have done a lot of cooking for my mom, daughter, and myself which created a great deal of resentment along the way. It’s so sad when “REAL FOOD” in it’s natural state is not understood, especially in the medical profession!
    Thanks for the opportunity to vent…great topic!
    Jami

  57. Lynn

    In my limited experience, I think hospitals ARE improving…but I have a friend who just spent 3 weeks there (as the result of an accident) and she got into A LOT of trouble with the hospital dietitian for not eating the hospital food. She had fresh, organic foods brought to her daily. I would also like to add that she was expected to be in the hospital several months, with many complications and the doctor was astounded she was healing well and going home so quickly. He credited her speedy exit to prayer and her healthy eating.

  58. KellyBelly

    Hopefully the New Milford hospitals plan will start other hospitals to do the same. Similar to what Jamie Oliver and the Food Revolution is trying to do with school food.
    I know this is possible, people just need to think “outside” the box!

  59. Ainnl

    I was reminded of an article I recently read (it’s from the UK, but they are facing the same problem) by a cardiologist asking how his patients were supposed to begin making the recommended changes to their diets when the hospital fed them so poorly.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/feb/13/hospital-food-poor-nutrition

    A hospital in the Netherlands recently experimented with doing away with the cafeteria and hiring a catering company. They reported that this gave them several advantages: fresher, better-tasting food; cost savings; significantly less food waste; and better patient health. Because the food was more appealing, patients were eating more (which was better for their health than skipping meals because the food was disgusting), but because it was being made as needed, less food overall was being prepared (thus lowering costs).

    Personally I think that it is important that hospital food be both healthy and tasty, in order to set a good example for those who have unhealthy diets, and to not reduce the health of those who have good diets.

  60. Tracy

    This is a huge issue with me. I can really get on a soapbox about it. My son has asthma. At times his asthma flares up so badly that he ends up in the hospital. They have to give him alot of steroids. My relationship with steriods is a love hate thing but I won’t go there. Needless to say the steroids make my sons blood sugar go up and his blood pressure go up. Do you know the only items they keep up at the nurses station for snacks? Poptarts, ice cream and popscicles. That is it! It is like a high fructose corn syrup convention. Yuck! And when I won’t let him have a snack, then the nurses look at me like I’m being some sort of abusive parent. :O And everytime I turn around they are offering him soda!! Drives me crazy!

  61. Teresa LeLeux

    During my daughter’s recent hospitslization in Orange County California, I was disgusted by the lack of real, healthy food served. Virtually everything she was served came out of a package. Food is healing, yet none of what she was served would have contributed to her healing. Hospitals have a real opportunity to
    educate their patients about healthy food choices and food preparations and yet they give them so few positive examples.

  62. zebe

    Since my mom was a dietitian by training, and worked in hospitals & nursing homes, I’ve heard stories. You’d THINK a hospital, which has dietitians on staff, would be one of the safest & healthiest places to eat, but NO. It can actually be one of the least safe places to eat, especially if you aren’t of a mindset to ask questions about the recipes & ingredients. There’s so much messed up about our health care system, that this seems low on the priority list, but not if you’re the one in the hospital with an allergy!

  63. When a dear friend was in the hospital dying, the food was so terrible that the “inmates” actually begged us to go to McDonald’s and bring them food. We were so appalled by this that my husband actually tracked down the head “nutritionist” and asked why the food was so terrible. Her response was that the health institutions are given a strict and very low budget for food. She felt her hands were tied because the only food supplier that would meet her budget was Cisco foods and most of it was made off site at the factory.

  64. Jordan

    I work at a small-ish hospital in CT. While I am contracted to a satellite emergency dept, I often pick up shifts at the main hospital. Before going gluten and dairy free, I was always excited. They had really yummy grilled cheese and pasta galore. Now that I live a healthier lifestyle, I dread their soggy salad and overcooked veggies. :(

  65. Denise

    Soemthing needs to be done about hospital food, it is terrible. On top of it being unhealthy, almost all hospitals outsource their food service to companies that know nothing about dietary requirements and food allergies. When i had my baby, i had to spend an extra two days in the hospital because i had a massive reaction to gluten in my “gluten free” meal. They serve my grandma dairy all the time despite the charts saying lactose intolerant, and they serve diabetics a meal full of starch because it doesnt have sugar listed.

  66. This would be awesome. I have been wanting to start something here in Pittsburgh with all of our hospitals. My husband is an orthopedic surgeon and he has extremely limited choices when he visits the cafe to eat. When we visit him we have the choice of juice, or nothing. Even the bag of nuts they offered were tossed in wheat starch and high fructose corn syrup and that was in the Children’s Hospital. Vending machines filled with junk to drink and eat abound but local, fresh food isn’t a choice. Thanks for sharing this, Elana.

  67. Strapped for Cash

    I love the idea of bringing the local food movement into hospitals. Unfortunately, we kind of have to walk before we can take a jog. I would be thrilled to just get fresh fruit and vegetables (beyond mealy apples and overripe bananas) into hospitals. Actually, even more crucially, my suggestion is that a more basic approach to making fruits & Veg appear *everywhere* is to make them affordable.
    I have to tell you: In moving back to the states from living in Europe, the price of fruits and vegetables makes eating them almost a class issue. Seriously. There is absolutely no question in my mind WHY people are going out to eat and eating boxed food or why hospitals and schools use instant food instead of fresh! It’s expensive for working peoplea nd people who need to turn profits to stay employed! If the federal minimum wage is $7.25 and a pound (not a KG!) of tomatoes at the farmer’s market costs $5-$7 where mac and cheese is $.89-$1.25… well… it’s going to take basic economics to make real change. If folks want an effective tax cut, give one to the people who sell fresh fruit, meat and veg. Even more if they sell directly. Then you do 2 things: 1. you encourage producers to sell directly (and all of the things that go along with that) and 2. You have evened out the playing field between grocer and farmer.
    It’s very basic, but it’s a big step towards the goal of fresh, delicious food in our institutions.

  68. Melissa

    When I was giving birth to my second child I was so surprised with the hospital food. I called ahead to make sure they could accomodate my food issues. NO gluten, dairy, eggs, or soy. My first meal came and it was ladden with gluten and dairy. When I pointed that out, they had to find something else for me to eat and they had a hard time, there was very little I could eat….things like rice cereal. They ended up giving me Nu Go bars mostly. I kept my stay to 24 hours and went home. Oh and I had gestational diabetes and most of the stuff they brought me was so high in carbs. It’s not that hard to accomodate most people with food allergies. Usually fresh veggies and fruit and meats will do it. How hard can that be? Lord knows they charge enough for being in the hospital, they should be able to serve better food.

  69. Kerry

    Recently while recovering from out-patient surgery, one of the requirements to go home was to eat. The nurses were only able to offer me things containing gluten. My mom out of frustration went to the hospital cafeteria to find something I could eat. She was able to find some gluten free packaged brownies. It was quite an eye-opener for the nurses that in the department they were unable to help me.

  70. Stacy

    When I was in the hospital for the birth of both my kids I was beyond disbelief at the food. I live in a big city and was at a major, successful hospital. I wanted to go into food service right away to tackle this problem because I felt it wouldn’t be so hard. I think all we need to do is start simple and make a few easy changes and it would improve immensely.
    We know about foods that help heal the body – what about teaching that while patients recover. I did a lot of research for my mom when she had a hip replacement. There is a lot of info out there – but none of it given to her by her doctor (that’s another topic!).

    Anyways, I was busy with my newborn babies and forgot this issue. It sure is a good one.

  71. I spent a couple days at the hospital for surgery on my knee once. The funny thing is that I didn’t even have any allergies to food but I still didn’t eat anything except snacks for the vending machine because their food was so over priced and terrible.

  72. So cool to see this.There is a handful of chefs that are changing the perception of hospital food.
    Check out my blog. Newschoolhospitalfood.wordpress.com. To find out more!

    Chef Ryan
    Raleigh, NC

  73. Audrey J

    My recent stay in my local hospital was an eyeopener. When I said no dairy the nutritionist offered me lactose free milk. When I told her I couldn’t have cow’s milk in any form, she offered me cheese.

    I think much of the problem could be solved with better trained nutritionist. Dairy free does not mean I don’t eat eggs. And the walnut allergy meant I had a “tree nut allergy” and I couldn’t get an almond snack that would give me protein mid morning.

    My food was ok, baked chicken for dinner with steamed spinach and mixed fruit. Breakfast was eggs, bacon and fresh fruit.

  74. Leisa @ Yahoo

    As a nurse, I observe pts eating horribly- prior to admission and during the admission to the hospital. Healthy, nutritious food is necessary for proper healing. Certain diets are required for certain illnesses. I agree with no junk food and natural or low sugar dessesrts. However, pts will refuse to eat if it is too “foreign”, ie. They will sneak food from home or raid the vending machines if you substitute cauliflower for potatoes. Vending machines and fast food courts in the hospital need to be eliminated and 24 hour healthy snacks could be offered when hot meals aren’t available.
    Specialty diets or healthy diets should be a menu option for the pt and the cafeteria visitors. The hospital I work at will give a dish a fancy name and charge more for it, but it isn’t worth the price and usually doesn’t taste good.
    The argument has been and will continue to be the same as public school meals– it costs too much and not easy to prepare. I do not believe this. Health care costs are hi enough to teach people how to eat properly. In the long run, it could keep pts out of the hospital. Also, some cafeteria workers aren’t even trained in food prep as much as in a local restaurant. Education is needed in this area as well. Bans and taxes don’t work, as evidenced by the sales of cigarettes and alcohol, so I am against taxing soda or junk food. People have to take personal responsibility and the healthy choices must be available for those when they are confined to the hospital.

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