When you’re sick, going to the hospital isn’t exactly your idea of a great time. From crowded waiting rooms to painful injections, it’s a place where you’re likely to experience plenty of frustration, but that’s not the only downside: the food. Most people would agree that the meals served in hospitals aren’t exactly gourmet – in fact, the Guardian reports that two-thirds of hospital staff members say they wouldn’t even eat the food they serve to patients on the daily (which ranges from tuna sandwiches and salads to trays of gray mush).
But the truth is that many hospitals are trying to improve their food offerings. And though some are struggling to make the shift, others have found success and a better way to feed their patients.
Hospitals typically outsource their food services to large, corporate catering companies, like Aramark, whose clients include schools and prisons. These caterers are tasked with preparing meals for thousands of people per day. They must abide by strict food handling and safety regulations, which can make it difficult to meet nutritional goals while still serving up meals that are appealing to patients.
One way some hospitals are addressing the issue is by hiring a local executive chef to spearhead a farm-to-fork program. These chefs work with local farmers to bring fresh, nutritious and plant-based options to the table. They also encourage patients to eat their meals as part of their treatment plan, making healthy eating a big part of the recovery process.
Another approach is to offer more traditional comfort foods to patients, like juicy pot roast and gooey macaroni and cheese. Many hospitals have found that by offering these dishes, the more recognizable foods can ease fears and help patients feel at home while in the hospital. Some hospitals also offer an alternate menu, which allows patients to request traditional favorites that aren’t listed on the daily menu.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has even created a scoring system to help rate how healthy a hospital’s menu is. It awards points for a limited number of categories, such as healthy soup options, soy milk and Meatless Monday programming. Other categories are based on whether a hospital offers more fresh fruit and vegetables, less processed meats, more whole grains or potatoes and has a garden or farmer’s market.
Aside from the health benefits of good food, a tasty meal can boost morale and help patients recover faster. And that’s especially important when you’re stuck in a hospital room for weeks on end.
So next time you’re visiting a loved one in the hospital, be sure to try their food. You may be surprised at how far they’ve come from the institutionalized mush and mystery meat of yesteryear. If they’re lucky, the scrumptious shrimp cocktail and seared scallops may just help shorten their stay!