Nine Hospitals Are Redefining Hospital Food

hospital food

When you’re stuck in a hospital bed after surgery or an illness, there’s not much to look forward to. Needles, shared rooms, backside-baring gowns and bland, cardboard-derived food all make for an experience most people would happily avoid if they could. But thankfully, hospitals are catching on that a little culinary care can go a long way in changing the perception of hospital stays. They’re bringing in chefs and teaming up with nutritionists to slim down dishes, revamp menus and class up cafeterias. From Stanford’s hi-tech ordering system through room TV’s to coffee-crusted prime rib at Cancer Treatment Centers of America, check out our gallery below for nine hospitals that are redefining hospital food.

When chef Bruno Tison first started at NYU Langone Medical Center in 2012, he was shocked to discover the state of their cafeteria and patient meals. In a era of cost-cutting, consolidation and a laserlike focus on acute care, many hospitals outsourced their food services years ago and had been squandering the opportunity to improve patients’ diets.

Tison set out to reform the restaurant, hiring classically trained chefs and staffing his kitchens with nutritionists to teach them how to create healthy foods that were both tasty and appealing to patients. He also removed the deep fryers and made sure all sandwiches, salads and entrees met NYC hospital cafeteria standards that require leafy greens, vinegar-based dressing, proportionally priced half-size sandwiches and no more than 800 milligrams of sodium. He also limited the number of sugary drinks available and labeled them with calories.

The results have been impressive. In just a few years, Tison has turned the hospital into a model for other hospitals and healthcare systems nationwide. His menus now feature fish, chicken, lots of vegetables and even savory desserts like carrot cake. He and his teams have reduced the amount of processed ingredients and refined flour used in the kitchens, and they source local ingredients whenever possible.

In a broader movement to change hospital food, several nonprofits have emerged to team up with public and private hospitals and their food providers to deliver healthier options. The Hospital Healthier Food Initiative (HHFI), founded in 2012, is one of the most prominent. It works with hospitals and their vendors to create sustainable menus that meet the needs of both patients and the community, with the ultimate goal of reducing obesity in the US.

But the reality is, hospitals need to be willing to pay more for wholesome, fresh ingredients and lessen the reliance on junky processed foods that often run up costs. As large purchasers, they have a lot of bargaining power and innovative structures to leverage when it comes to sourcing better food. That’s why, for example, Held at NYU Langone was able to switch over to antibiotic-free chicken sourced within 250 miles, while Northwell Health brought in Tison to spearhead their new food program that has received rave reviews from patients.