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Food ideas to take to hospital patient! Please help!

My mother is quite ill and in order to gain strength to fight her disease, she really needs protein. But gads--the stuff they bring her! It looks and smells awful, and often she can't eat it....with good reason! Breakfast is great with scrambled eggs and bacon, but goes downhill after that. Today's lunch choice was chicken fried steak (gasp!) or a fruit & cottage cheese plate.
Here are the challenges to overcome: I live about 40 min. away and usually get there early in the AM and stay all day so keeping stuff hot would be a challenge. Coolers are fine, though. I've been taking turkey wraps made with The Tortilla Factory rosemary & olive oil, and she likes those.
Other challenges: she is lactose intolerant and, at least at the moment, can't tolerate anything acidic at all. A friend suggested egg salad so that could be possible. But PLEASE HELP! Any ideas are welcome as I'm so stressed at the moment I can't think about food/dietary needs also. She's not getting out of the hospital any time soon, and my husband is going to the city tomorrow while I go to the hospital, so give me some 'feedback' to make a list for him to shop.
Thank you so much for ANY help!

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  1. It's pretty simple, but I often really enjoy a peanut butter sandwhich on wheat bread or wheat toast.

    How about cheese and crackers? Good cheese, good crackers or bread, that is. I'd pair it with fruit, but you'd need to find something that wasn't too acidic.

    Tuna salad? A nice variation is the italian kind with white beans, onion, tomato and basil added to it. (Maybe skip the tomatoes for now)

    Stuffed hard boiled eggs are often enjoyed by most everyone. You can just mix the yolks with a bit of mayonaise and any kind of herb and then refill.

    5 Replies
    1. re: DGresh

      This is really serious. Do you have the power of attorney for her medical needs? Or does someone else in the family who can negotiate with the hospital administration? I'm thinking you need to make a list of what your mother says she craves or will eat that matches up with the foods she needs nutritionally and present that to the hospital dietician. This is a state licensed position. This is the person who is professionally, ethically, and legally responsible for seeing that your mother's hospital menu choices includes foods that matched the 2 categories I mentioned above: nutritionally necessary and appetizing to her. I would camp out in the Dietician's office until I had some menus for your mother in writing and a guarantee that this person will be responsible for seeing that your mother is served and consumes the necessary foods daily. I'm serious.

      Other than that, I think soup and cooked fruits are good choices for hospital patients, both of which can be brought in and kept in the Unit's fridge. You need to "make friends" with some nurses on each shift. Tip them, or give them some little presents to make them feel guilty and cooperative - but only after you find out who the regulars are. Communicate heart to heart with them and extract some promises that they will monitor your mom's eating/drinking. The way to do this on the medical level is to ask her doctor to place her on "I&O" (intake & output). So there will be a form on her door where each nurse, each shift has to list everything that your mom eats/drinks, the amounts and calorie counts.

      Don't be afraid - everything I have advised you to do is routine practice. When I'm not eating or cooking I'm a nurse/social worker.

      1. re: niki rothman

        Tip a nurse? I have never heard such a thing, and I am from a family of nurses. Do people do this?

        1. re: niki rothman

          Excuse me, but it's against ethical nursing practice to accept tips,and in fact, gifts at all.

          1. re: thenurse

            My mom is in a nursing home, every so often I give the staff a gift card to use at the local Dunkin Donuts. I also make sure to tell them that it is for each shift to use.

            Always welcomed, and it is not going to any one person so that is another idea.

            1. re: hummingbird

              Yeah, my mom was in a long term facility and maybe tip isn't the right word, maybe the word is acknowledge good work in a group way. I brought dozens of roses on Mothers day for all the nurses to take one each. On Valentines Day they got boxes of chocolates 'from' my mother to say she loved them. Halloween was bags of candy for them to take home for their children. Christmas was cookies or some sort of treat. On my mom's birthday I made sure all the nurses got food and cake when we had a party. It said we appreciated their effort and helped my mom get a little more attention.

              For individuals, I made sure they always knew verbally how much I appreciated their work and thanked them for any special effort they made like dressing her especially nicely.

      2. I know you said it's hard to keep things warm, but when my grandmother was quite ill, the only thing she would eat was chicken soup I would make for her and bring in a large thermos. I'd load it with chicken and would make small matzo balls as well which she loved. Just a thought, the thermos kept it hot for some time.

        Other suggestions: Poached salmon with fresh dill which is quite good chilled....or whitefish salad?

        1. My family members have, in recent years, spent considerable time in various hospitals. My two cents: after checking with the doctors about restrictions, besides low-acid, you need to get the lay of the land in the hospital. Except for the ICU, most patient wards these days are laid out with a shared kitchen for each wing. There is usually a stash of extra juices and sodas in a fridge, somewhere, where the nurses put the meals that a patient asks/has to have at an odd hour. See if you can locate the one nearest your mother's room. This might be the nurses' kitchenette, too. See if you need permission to keep food for her, there. There is sometimes a microwave, and/or coffee/tea/hot water. This opens up all sorts of possiblities for reheating home cooked food. Comfort food, whatever that may mean for your mother, is especially nice when sick. Might need to stick with low-salt, low-fat, to start, in case of upsetting her stomach. Otherwise, real soup, real snacks, real anything she feels like having, is so much better that she might even eat more of it. Having time to cook it is a separate problem.

          1. I know just what you mean about hospital food; I've been in very similar circumstances with loved ones. I was absolutely appalled by the quality/variety and general lack of taste in hospital food, and I supplemented it whenever I could.

            If your mom needs protein, then egg salad, chicken salad, and tuna salad are all good choices, and they can be easily managed in bed with limited cutlery and/or mobility. Try crackers, melba toasts, potato chips or bagel chips as alternatives to bread or rolls. They're easy to make ahead and put into a lunchbox-sized cooler for transport/storage. Another option is smoked or baked turkey; buy good-quality cold cuts, and instead of having them sliced thin as for sandwiches, get it sliced thickly and then cut into batons (like for a chef salad). These can be used to supplement the parts of the "regular" meal that are usually edible (the fruit cup, the juices, the inevitable jello or pudding dessert). Another good protein source: hummus (also easy to eat with pita bread or crackers and good at room temp).

            Soy milk is another excellent source of protein; you can buy it in single-serve, shelf-stable containers at Whole Foods, and it is tasty over ice or mixed with various things (chocolate syrup or ovaltine or similar powdered stuff).

            Does your mother like protein bars? Clif, Luna, etc. come in a variety of flavors, and since they're shelf-stable, she can keep a stash of them in her bedside table. If the evening meal is terrible, she'll still know that she has some alternative and doesn't have to go hungry until you arrive the next AM. (Sometimes the loss of control and enforced helplessness of hospitals is worse than the food served.)

            Smoothies are sometimes available in the hospital cafeteria or (hopefully) nearby; you can have protein powder added to them and they're available in a range of flavors. And since they're full of ice, they keep for a couple of hours and can be sipped on throughout the afternoon.

            Go down to the nurses' station (or information desk) and ask about takeout and delivery foods in the area...maybe they're placing regular takeout orders and will be happy to include you in their planning.

            From my experience, avoid Ensure and the like--those "nutritional supplements" taste awful and are demoralizing. Nothing screams "old" and "sick" like swilling a can of Ensure. Keep her eating "real food"--it's good for the spirit in a way that nutro-ceutical manufactured foods just aren't.

            1. They have those mixed canned or pouched tuna salads in the supermarket. That with either some crackers or bringing a loaf of bread along might work. Peanut butter? Even better, fancy nut butters like cashew?

              Just some ideas outside of what you are asking ... assuming you have talked to the doctor about any dietary restrictions ... but given she's gettin chicken fried steak .. well doesn't seem that way.

              - Since this is in a city, are there any meal delivery services? In SF there is Meals on Wheels that delivers food from many restaurants. What about chinese delivery. Pizza delivery might be out because ... both acidic & cheese ... BUT ... lots of these places have things like roast chicken on the menu. All of these places will deliver to a hospital. If they are not allowed in the patients room, they can deliver to the nurses station. Or if you or your husband are there, they can deliver to the lobby. If this seems like an idea, inquire on the board where the hospital is located and ask about restaurants that deliver food.

              - Most hospitals have a microwave and refrigerator in either the cafeteria or the staff lunch room. You might ask if there is a microwave nearby and it could be used. Ditto the fridge. As far as the public cafeteria, you might check out and see if there is a microwave available.

              - some hospitals have gourmet meals at a premium price that they don't advertise ... ask about them.

              - talk to the dietician if your mom is getting stuff she can't eat. Often special arrangements can be made. She's lactose intolerant and they are giving her cottage cheese?

              1. When my mom was in the hospital...she craved good chicken soup. Sometimes I made it with matzo balls. It made her happy. I'd heat it up in the microwave in the nurses break room.

                1. Milk and eggs are good source of protein for the body, and I think the easiest for the body to digest. If lactose intolerant, use Lactaid brand milk, or try goat milk.

                  Meat is an excellent source of protein as you already know. You'll need food that travels well. Chicken salad with oil and vinegar (as opposed to mayonnaise) would work nicely. Hard boiled eggs, or egg salad with mustard as a condiment would work. Marinated bean salads would be good too. There's protein in them there beans. A "frittata" makes for a great lunch or dinner and can stay out for a while w/o refrigeration. Google it for recipes. A good quality 3.5oz (tiny) can of tuna in olive oil can be opened at any time, consumed usually in one sitting, and no refrigeration required. Don't forget, fish is a good source of protein, canned or fresh.

                  Try even a protein shake with Lactaid milk or goat milk. It'll satisfy her protein requirement plus sate her craving for anything sweet.

                  1. A cooler can be used to keep food hot. It is just an insulated box. So you can bring pretty much anything.

                    1. These are all such fantastic suggestions! I was in the hospital recently with similar needs- lots of protein, lactose intolerant. Speaking directly to the dietician in the food services dept made ALL the difference- they sent me a "snack" menu and I was able to request things like cheese & crackers, Lactaid milk, peanut butter, turkey or tuna sandwiches- for between my meals- made it easier if I happened to get soemthing I couldn't eat- there was a back-up in the fridge. Until I discovered this, though, I had a small cooler stocked with cheese sticks, nuts, peanut butter crackers, hard boiled eggs, etc.

                      1. You have gotten some good suggestions and I just want to add another couple of suggestions. The combination of beans and rice supply a complete protein. There are many combinations and ethnicities in combining the two like risi e bisi the Italian peas and rice very good as a risotto, cajun red beans and rice-you can keep the spices down, etc. Rice is quite soothing and you can also do other rice combinations if beans or peas would be a problem, like chicken and rice bog or pilafs with shrimp, chopped lamb like in Byrani, Chinese jook in a thermos would travel well and can certainly be nourishing, initerestingly flavored and varied and enriched with any variety of meats and vegetaables and is easily eaten too.

                        I have been through some back surgery recently and some of the pain medication I was on before and after would leave me nauseated and uninterested in food. I never turned down rice. Also when really not feeling well I found a little really good dark chocolate, just a square or two of someting like Lindt 70% made me feel better and could make me want to eat too.

                        1. Mac and cheese because it's good hot or room temp.,easy on the tummy and very portable. Maybe add some chopped up ham to it.

                          1. ask her what she would like to eat.

                            When I'm not feeling well, my mind always turns to comfort food. Top of the list are various soups (e.g., great home made chicken soup).

                            Best of luck with everything.

                            1. when my mom was in the hospital for 4 weeks, I brought her things to remind her of home. Cooked chicken breast, mashed potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes, fresh green beans, lamb chop, even the dreaded (by me) brussels sprouts.

                              Protein was basically whatever meats we'd had at home for dinner the night before. She like my cooking so it was no problem trying to please her, except that her sense of taste was off.

                              Before you feed her any gaseous foods, remember her meds may be causing (ahem) plumbing problems. If she needs assistance to use the loo, don't give her anything that will gum her up or make an extra-fast trip necessary. Don't want to distress her! You know your mom better than anyone, and don't be afraid of speaking up diplomatically on her behalf, reguarding her meals and snacks.

                              Also, hospital cafeterias have microwaves and napkins, utensils etc., even when the serving is closed.

                              Ask staff if there is any particularly good takeout nearby.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: toodie jane

                                on a related topic, not only pay attention to the food, but the servicing--get a few of your mom's favorite plates, glasses, cups, silverwave (that you feel comfortable leaving or take with you) so she feels more at home. Get rid of the tray and the hospital issue items--paper napkins, etc. Maybe bring in a nice place mat. Try to make it seem less institutional when serving. Anything to make it less like a hospital and maybe 1% like luxurious room service.

                                1. re: eve

                                  I agree--a cloth napkin and a nice plate and glass will make anything you bring taste even better, and provide a mental escape from the sterile hospital environment. Hang in there Ms Ghost.

                                  1. re: eve

                                    what a terrific and easily do-able idea!!
                                    Wish I'd had Chowhound to help me at the time. The pressure is sooo intense, you need extra creative minds.

                                    Hospitals could make use of this idea too. (Mom's phys therapist insisted she get fully dressed as she normally would every day to feel more like normal, down to pantyhose and makeup) This only extends that idea into the 'epicurian therapy arena'--an individual's deep well of pleasurable food memories can help in appetite stimulation and trigger a favorable attitude adjustment when things are looking pretty bleak.

                                    But I would say, take your service items with you, especially if the items are favorites. There is precious little storage (or security) in hospital rooms. Those nightstand drawers are actually for hospital paraphenalia that the nurses use while administering to patients.

                                    A good well-equiped modern picnic tote would fill the bill.
                                    These are ofter back-pack style now and can be found in wine shops! or online.

                                    here's a sample of what I mean:


                                    thanks ewe for this great suggestion!

                                2. I think soup is the ideal substance for people in the hospital - it's just too annoying to eat real food on the tray in the bed, etc. When my grandpa was refusing to eat in the hospital, I went to the store, bought two big soup thermoses, and made two homemade soups for him. He could eat them slowly and they'd still be hot - it convinced him to start eating again.

                                  Since your mom needs protein, I suggest a good lentil/vegetable soup, and/or a good black bean soup. I made a potato-cheese soup and a carrot-ginger soup for my grandpa, but I wasn't so worried about protein as just getting him to eat.

                                  1. Hounds, thank you SO much for all your helpful input. She is as of today out of the hospital but into a nursing facility (in order to avoid germs due to beginning chemo drugs) which has equally dismal food. Boy, just makes you think there is an enormous, untapped career field out there to try to give sick people REAL food to strengthen their bodies to fight disease (in her case, a blood disorder which is attacking her major organs). I just have not yet had the time to try to fix GOOD stuff for her beyond egg salad (our local gas station sells fresh eggs!), but I will definitely keep in mind your numerous suggestions and thank you VERY much for taking the time to post them.

                                    1. Holding best thoughts for both you and your mom. Remember not to neglect yourself during the trying times ahead. You will need to keep up your strength as well as a positive outlook.