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How is the hospital food where you live?

I was just in the Lahey Clinic in Burlington, Massachusetts, for a few days, and have been an inpatient there on 4 previous occasions. Their food is a mixed bag - some of the housemade items are not bad at all, although portion sizes are debatable. My first time, 5 years ago, when I ordered a side salad it was a tiny bowl with perhaps a half cup of lettuce and a slice each of cucumber and tomato. I could understand small servings of the less healthy items but you'd think they'd size in such a way as to promote the healthier foods. In the fresh fruit arena, the bananas and apples are very small and the apples are Red Delicious, that quintessential example of false advertising. Not only mealy, with a bitter peel and little flavor, but brown near the core.

I once mentioned to a nurse there that the chicken pot pie was quite good - she told me that when the hospital first opened, patient trays had quality tableware and bud vases with fresh flowers, which hasn't been the case in many years. This time, I was on a "heart-healthy" diet. The menu had a heart logo on certain foods so that's what I requested, although I was skeptical about the accuracy of those logos, which were attached, for example, to a grilled cheese sandwich and all of the bread choices, including white and a white dinner roll. Salty margarine yes, butter no. I found that the heart-healthy foods were far saltier than what I cook for myself. For my last meal there, I asked if the logo-less chicken pot pie was permitted and was told it was. When it arrived, instead of the nice crust I remembered from 5 years ago, the filling was topped with a slice of white toast. I don't know if that was a supposedly heart-healthy alternative topping or if they'd run out of the properly-prepared item....

I know that some hospital cafeterias are notable for particularly good versions of certain foods. A different one in my area is supposed to make a great Reuben. But now that I am back home, with my preferred non-white starches and unsalted butter, I am wondering if there are any hospitals that have particularly good or bad INPATIENT food reputations.

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  1. I have experience with a few Los Angeles area hospitals. They are all pretty much the same.

    Cedars Sinai has a pretty decent cafeteria with a variety of decently cooked hot items and good soup, but the inpatient food is solidly terrible. Chicken broth that tastes like it was made from powder, gummy oatmeal, ultra-pasteurized juice and jello that taste like they've been cooked to death and yet are still chock full of chemicals, bleh. I feel sad just thinking about it.

    Same for City of Hope in Duarte and Whittier Presbytarian. Not downright inedible, but certainly uninspired and reeking of Monsanto.

    Hope you're feeling better, greygarious. In my experience, just being home makes a world of difference. At least now you can cook heart healthy your own way.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Pei

      My mom did a hospital stay many years ago at Cedars. The food may have sucked, but the chocolate chip cookies that came in an individual aluminum pans, warm and gooey, were awesome. I was probably 11 or 12 at the time, and I visited her every day. She always saved her cookie for me.

    2. Greygarious, you're lucky you've found the Lahey clinic! They ended my mom's search for what ailed her (a combination of allergies as well as low blood sugar). Her quality of life is far better now than before she visited. That was about 20 years ago!

      I don't know if this is too terribly on-topic, but here goes.

      When my father was diagnosed with cancer, after he'd been in hospital he transitioned to a nursing home. People in our area generally raved about this place, calling it the "prettiest" or "classiest" place in the area. Well, the quality of patient care was horrible. And so was the food. (I'd get "visitor trays" from the lunchroom rather than go out to get a sandwich or whatever.) I couldn't believe that we had to pay over and above what dad's insurance would pay to get him into this very lovely looking, but horrible (service-wise) place.

      After he became covered with bedsores and lost an appalling amount of weight, we consulted with a number of healthcare professionals about moving him to a place where he'd get better care. Now, the place wasn't a whole lot to look at, but the quality of care was superb! The first place he was at charged $5.00 for their awful guest trays. This new place encouraged family and friends to visit and would provide complimentary guest trays to whomever wished to eat with the patient. The food was all made from scratch, it seems, and was very, very good (for mild, "hospital" food). Dad actually gained weight there, and was very, very comfortable until the cancer took him.

      I'm in the food service industry. Hospital food-service operations all over the country are starting to serve very good quality food. It's in all of the industry magazines. Slowly but surely, the days when hospital entrees were flavorless rubber, and hospital veggies were sulphurous grey gack, are ending.

      1. I'm a volunteer at my local hospital and occasionally eat lunch there. If the food served to patients is as bad as the canteen, then it is a wonder any recover.

        1. I'm in the Boston area too. I've only been admitted to the hospital once, when I gave birth to my son, and the food at Mt. Auburn Hospital was great! I was so surprised. Not only that, but they let you call and order off a menu whenever you felt like eating, instead of having set meal times with the same meal for everyone! They had this delicious salad with spinach and strawberries, and really good cheesecake. He's 2 1/2 now but I still remember the food and will order that salad again when I have my next kid! (And hopefully not before.)

          4 Replies
          1. re: Pia

            For hospitals in Boston, I think the choices at MGH vary based on which cafeteria you're talking about. I also worked over in Longwood Medical Area for a while and my experience was that the Childrens cafeteria was the best of the bunch.

            1. re: jgg13

              This particular discussion is about inpatient food, which can be very different from what is available to staff and public in the cafeterias.

              1. re: greygarious

                Surprisingly (or not) when I did an internship at a local hospital the inpatient and cafeteria food looked eerily similar.

                1. re: greygarious

                  I comment with apologies that I have not as yet read the entire collection of replies. It is late this morning; and, I really need to run. To the hospital! I published a small piece last March comparing food quality and service at five different area hospitals. While there were some interesting variations, I would not recommend any of them for their food. And, that is to underscore your comment regarding "in-patient" (bed or room) service versus one or more in-house cafeterias/restaurants. The latter have made great strides in recent years; but, alas, I see little of this trickling up to patient rooms. Even when a meal or dish begins the journey with a promising start, the half hour to well over one hour (I have clocked suppers as taking more than two and one half hours to be delivered) from plating to patient leaves almost everything to be desired. Foods originally hot are cold. Cold foods are room temperature. And, some items have long lost any integrity. There is no excuse for this seeming indifference and ineptitude. Yet, that seems to be the standard here. I think that we are beginning to mimic much of Asia; where patients receive little or no attention, only haphazard medication or other treatment, and no food service unless they have a trusted family member of friend standing right there to demand service. In my extended stay last February, I went from 200 to 120 pounds; and, I emerged looking like a walking skeleton. I could have been a good stand-in for a Holocaust movie.

            2. I've had a heart condition my entire life, so I've had my fair share of in-patient hospital fare. I think food has been getting decidedly better in recent years. When I was first hospitalized for surgery about 20 years ago at the Texas Heart Institute, all I remember was losing about 20 lbs due to the flavorless food of the low-sodium diet they put me on. Luckily, my mom snuck in a huge container of salt (she said it was too cheap not to buy the big one!).

              Fast forward about 15 years to Meritcare in Fargo, ND. They did meal service on order, so the food was pretty good. Standard burgers, sandwiches, meatloaf, etc.

              But the best hospital food I've had was when I was last hospitalized about a year ago at UW Medical Center in Seattle. They also had food 'on order' and they had a wonderful selection of stir-fried asian dishes with jasmine rice. When my friends and family would come to visit me I would try to hide the hospital tray so they couldn't see that I'd completely licked the plates clean!