Hospital Food Isn’t Always So Bad

Spending time in the hospital is never fun, but if you have to be there, it’s probably best that you avoid those hospital trays filled with Jell-O and mushy green food. Whether you’re going to the emergency room, getting an infusion or visiting a loved one who is sick or injured, relying on hospital food for every meal could spell disaster. It’s no secret that many hospital cafeterias serve meals that are high in salt, hidden sugar, factory farm animal products and chemical flavoring.

The good news is that there are a few hospitals across the country that are rethinking their food offerings. Rather than serving up bland dishes that make patients nauseous, these facilities are using the power of their kitchens to create meals that are delicious and healthy.

When the chef at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Tom Tison, took over the hospital’s dining service, he saw an opportunity to transform the institution’s image. He hired classically trained chefs and started giving them freedom to use their creativity. Now, patient trays offer a variety of choices including Moroccan vegetable tagine, Spanish vegetable paella and garden Bolognese with rigatoni. The menu also offers a number of meatless dishes to appeal to patients who may be following doctor recommendations to cut back on animal products or to support climate change.

Despite the best efforts of chefs and nutritionists, hospitals often struggle to provide balanced meals that are free of processed ingredients. The cost of purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables and the cost of sourcing higher-quality protein is a challenge for hospitals, especially those that are already under financial pressure. As Dr. Josh Axe points out, a significant portion of a hospital’s budget goes towards food.

Another hurdle that many hospitals face is the lack of professional training among their staff members in nutrition. While some employees do have a nutrition background, many don’t. This means that they may be unaware of which foods are most nutritious or how to properly prepare them for patients.

The fact is that most hospitals don’t put a lot of effort into developing new and exciting menus because it’s expensive. Moreover, the turnover rate for patients is rapid, so offering a wide variety of foods would quickly drain resources.

Still, that doesn’t mean that the hospital experience can’t be improved. For example, by partnering with local restaurants that are committed to sustainable practices, hospitals can offer healthier take-out options for patients and visitors. This would allow the restaurant to remain profitable while ensuring that patients are served well-balanced, healthy food.