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May 4, 2010 10:30 PM

Heston Blumenthal takes on hospital food for the elderly

I thought this was interesting:

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  1. I can't speak to the UK, but my 84-year-old father recently spent 5 weeks in the hospital in the US. The substances that were being passed off as his meals - food would be an utter misnomer - were beyond description. Tasteless, ugly, cooked beyond recognition, and nothing remotely fresh. Way to get a sick, elderly person back to health, guys! Families were routlinely bringing in fast food meals for the patients just so that they'd eat. I was cooking and baking for my father, again just so that he'd have something tasty and somewhat nutritious.

    The medical care that he received was fine. it would just be nice if the medical directors realized that food service is part of the equation. Blumenthal may be on to something.

    1 Reply
    1. re: rockycat

      Yes, I also had a similar bad experience with my grandfather in the States a few years ago. We would bring in home-cooked Greek food for him.
      The same movement that is going on in schools for more nutritious food should certainly also be applied to hospitals.

    2. It's no better at assisted living places. You should see the pre-packaged swill my grandmother has to face day after day. She's gained fifty pounds since she moved in there, and no wonder -- cooked-to-death canned veg and iceberg lettuce salads and fruit cocktail and wonderbread/mystery meat sandwiches.

      3 Replies
      1. re: LauraGrace

        As mentioned, it is not that elderly people won't eat, but the food is stuff even you and I would want to bother with because it is bland and institutionlied. The large nursing home my mother was in had the same veggie supplier as the San Francisco zoo..

        Another place she was in ... an absolely beutiful place ... when I called her once it was dinner time and the nurse said she couldn't come to the phone because "the patients were feeding"

        Not having dinner. Not eating. Not dining ... feeding. That should give an idea of how much they cared about the food they served.

        The issue brought up at the end of that article was also a good one. Many elderly people need assistance eating and there isn't the staff for that. If you can't eat in the allotted time by yourself, too bad.

        No one needs to experiment with umami to awaken taste buds. Just serve a meal a normal person would want to eat. They should make the staff eat the meals. I bet they would improve really quickly.

        1. re: rworange

          I would tend to agree with you in nearly all respects. However, at the hospital where my father was, the cafeteria food was every bit as disgusting as the food served to the patients. I had to eat there a few times and it was simply revolting. AND the staff was eating there, too. I did notice. however, that I didn't see too many doctors eating. Mostly nurses and techs. That place just had no respect for anyone's dietary needs.

          Oddly enough, though, the one time when it was Ethnic Food Day and they served Indian food, the meal was outstanding. I mean better than many of the Indian restaurants in the area. The ingredients were obviously fresh and I'm sure someone other than the usual staff was cooking. What a difference! The patients didn't get that treat, though.

          1. re: rockycat

            Doctors don't get an assigned lunch hour so they usually grab something and take it back to their desk. Some hospitals have doctors' dining rooms so they can eat quickly and not be approached by patients' families during their (scarce) breaks.

            Very hard to cook for a wide range of patients with many different restrictions/likes/tolerances. Many, many gut problems in hospitals. Cost of staff a big problem.

      2. when my mom was in cape coral, florida hospital two years ago, the patient food was just fine, and the cafeteria food was ok, too.

        just recently, i have to say that the food in the fort myers (lee memorial) hospital cafeteria was excellent, with fresh pastries, home-style type food, great soups/stews, and an excellent salad bar.

        for now (until there is no competition), it is useful to make complaints known so that providers can respond. what efforts have been made by you to remedy the situation in each of your cases, i'm curious?

        2 Replies
        1. re: alkapal

          I'm glad to hear that you had better experiences, and that awful hospital food is not wide-spread.

          We did mention the food to the nursing staff, but we received non-committal replies (which makes perfect sense, it isn't their responsibility) and we did not talk to the administration about it Honestly, all of us were more than happy to cook and bring food to my grandfather. It made us feel useful at a time when we felt helpless.
          But I agree it would have been productive to voice some complaints to people who may have been able to make a difference or just be more aware of the situation.

          1. re: alkapal

            You are talking about a regular hospital, not a nursing facility.

            I'll only touch briefly on what this means in the whole so you can get some perspective about the where priority of putting effort into upgrading the quality of meals is concerned.

            My whole life has been changed by the many years my mother was ill. If I am quick to anger and voice my opinion, it is because no one listens ... not the staff, not the doctors, not the administrators, not the state not the government. They only way to get anyone's attention is to be a loud SOB so the staff will make some effort to not to have to deal with that type of situation My mother died in 2002. I am still working on not having my fuse ignighted easily. It was a survival thing though. Most of the nursing home patients lasted 3-4 years at most. It wasn't because they were elderly. It was because basic care was lacking. Because of my ... persistance ... my mother lasted 10 years. My mother was in the better area nursing facilites that were closely monitored by the wonderful state of California. That last sentence is dripping with sarcasm.

            So on the food front, you have to throw minor hissy fits just to make sure the person is fed ... and not what is being fed.

            Some food efforts go in by commitees of families to work with the facility to up the food quality. However, those families are usually committed to larger issues such as making sure bones aren't broken, abuse by staff is kept to a minimum, adequate medical care is given.

            Of course one could go to the press, but usually that is reserved for the larger issues above.

            I don't know what the situtation is for Blumenthal where he lives. I hope it is better than here. Umami would be far down on the list of correcting US food problems for the instatutionalized elderly. I can't even imagine what the situation is food-wise in mid-class or bottom-feeder nursing facilities. That is where you go to die when you have no family.

          2. I think he's going to face two clear problems.

            Firstly, almost all hospitals buy in prepared dishes, blast chilled, for reheating. Now that doesnt mean that it can't be tasty but it add to the pressure.

            The second, and more significant, issue is one of cost. Many hospital budgets work at about £2.50 per patient per day - that's for all three meals of course.