Due to dropping temperatures and the flu season, there are more admissions to the hospital in winter. Hospital food has a notoriously bad reputation. In fact, when my father refused to eat his hospital meals while struggling with cancer, his physician asked me to bring in his meals from home. He knew I was a registered dietitian, and trusted me to prepare healthy meals for my father. Have you seen hospital meals that are now served? They look a lot different from the meals I saw served when my father was hospitalized in the 1980s. Change can be a good thing.
In prior decades, hospital meals were standardized and served at very specific times. Little room was left for personal food or meal time preferences. Menus may have been developed for traditional meal delivery using strict nutrient and calorie guidelines that didn’t allow for the poor food intake by many cancer patients during treatment.
Fast forward to the future. Today’s hospital meals could be mistaken for your local cafe. Patients are usually given a few options to choose from for each meal. Choices often include popular dishes often prepared by a professional chef. Better food means improved food intake and better outcomes for cancer patients. Let’s look at some of these trends in hospital meal service.
Have you ordered room service while staying in a hotel? Some hospitals now offer similar room service for meals. Patients are given a room service phone number and menu from which to order. Meals are delivered at flexible times to match the patient’s appetite and to work around tests and doctor visits.
Chefs are everywhere, in schools, in fitness spas, on military bases, and now on hospital staffs. With chefs overseeing hospital meal preparation, old hospital food has been replaced with flavorful, healthy dishes that also look great on the plate.
Many hospital food services now offer flex menus. These menus include choices for entrees, side dishes, and desserts, even for persons with diabetes or other food restrictions. Not hungry for a full meal? Opt for a sandwich instead. Need a mid-day or evening snack? No problem. Menus and snacks are more flexible and less restrictive to appeal to patients with appetite and food intake problems.
Going home with a special meal plan or diet restrictions? Many hospitals offer healthy eating and meal prep shows on closed circuit television. Some also offer cooking classes by chefs and registered dietitians/nutritionists. Learn while you in the hospital or sign up for a class as an outpatient. Where better to learn how to eat well than the hospital that helped you get well?
The next time you are admitted to the hospital, ask about your options for food choices, meal times, and learning how to cook healthfully. You may be surprised to taste the new flavors and to receive meals served on your time schedule. When you eat well, you support better health, recovery, and hopefully, a shorter stay in the hospital.