If you’ve ever spent a prolonged stay in the hospital, you know that the food isn’t exactly great. From fried foods to frozen meals to soups and salads, most hospital food is full of hidden salt, processed sugar, chemicals, preservatives and additives. Even if you eat a salad every day, chances are that your food is not as healthy as it should be — and this can actually make patients sick.
But that doesn’t mean that hospitals don’t care about their food — in fact, they are beginning to change it. Many are taking steps to offer better options for their staff, patients and visitors, including introducing menus with more nutritious options. They’re also using their kitchens to help improve patient health, reduce costs and meet other goals like reducing readmissions.
And some are getting creative with their options, too — which isn’t an easy feat for most hospitals. It takes time and money to make the necessary changes, but the results are well worth it: healthier meals that can make patients feel good, boost their recovery and even lower readmission rates.
To make a difference, hospitals are hiring professional chefs and nutritionists to help them tweak recipes and teach food preparers healthier cooking techniques. They’re also focusing on reducing or eliminating processed meats and sugary sodas, and using more whole fruits and vegetables in their dishes. And they’re doing their best to ensure that their offerings reflect the cultural and religious needs of their communities.
One example is NYU Langone Medical Center in Manhattan, where patients can now order miso-glazed organic tofu on a bed of baby spinach with roasted artichokes for lunch. The restaurant is run by two chefs who are passionate about making their food taste good and be healthy at the same time — which is no small feat when you’re serving 2,000 patient meals a day and addressing dietary restrictions and incorporating feedback from clinical teams.
Another example is Stanford Health Care, where cooks and dietitians work together to create meals that are not only healthy but also appealing and delicious. The team created a series of dishes for each meal that were inspired by different regions and cuisines, like Thai vegetable noodles and a Southern black-eyed pea casserole. And it’s experimenting with other ways to use its kitchen and menus to support the wellbeing of patients, staff and visitors.
But the most important thing to remember is that, no matter what a hospital does, it’s still up to you to choose the right foods to keep yourself healthy. So if your loved one is in the hospital, be sure to bring them snacks that are high in fiber and low in fat (like apples, celery and carrots), and avoid fried foods and sugary drinks. And if you’re in the mood for something sweet, try a fruit-based dessert like a strawberry sorbet or a homemade popsicle instead of an ice cream sundae. That way, you’ll be boosting your family’s immune systems while helping them heal.