Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >
May 15, 2012 05:35 PM

Hospital Food----My how it's changed>>>For the better

During the last 30 days I had the occassion to be hospitalized three separate times for the same problem. It is now solved and I'm fine.

I have not been hospitalized in 10 years, and prior to that almost 40 years earlier. Hospital food used to be bland, tasteless glop, served in an unappealing manner off a cart rolling down the aisles and arriving lukewarm at best and at stupid times, such as supper at 4PM. 10 years ago I had my wife smuggle in outside food. 50 years ago, I lost 10 pounds during my stay as I found nothing remotely edible. I wasn't eating creamed chipped beef for breakfast or turkey ala king for dinner.

I was hospitalized with no dietary restrictions, and the nurse on duty brought me a menu that looked like it came from a local diner, not an institutional kitchen.

I was told to make my choices and call the extension on the menu to place an order.

Breakfast could be ordered from 7am til 7 pm, with the exception that breakfast sandwiches and pancakes were only available until 10:30 AM. There were choices of fresh fruit, canned fruits, yogurts, eggs to order, pancakes, french toast waffles, hot and cold cereals, breakfast meats and fresh breads and pastries, as well as a good slection of teas and Green Mountain coffees.

The lunch and dinner menus were available from 11 am til 7pm and had a choice of 5 soups, garden and dinner salads, chef, ceasar and fruit. There were 9 entrees served with startch and vegetable with dinner rolls ranging from grilled chicken, to Asian stir fry to comfort foods such as meatloaf or fish.

There was a grill section with hamburgeres, cheeseburgers, grilled chcken sandwiches or garden veggie burgers cooked on a char grill. A selection of cold made to order deli sandwiches on choice of bread/rolls was also available.

Deserts were a choice of fresh baked goods, fresh or canned fruits, puddings, italian ices, ice cream or sherbets and 6 flavors of soda, coffee and tea.

The meals were delived to the bed by 'Ambassadors' who were responsible for only 8 patients. One afternoon I did not feel like lunch early as I was having an IV treatment and the ambassador arrived at my bed all upset that I hadn't entered an order and shouldn't miss a meal. I really wasn't hungry and the medicines had affected my appetite. The ambassador informed me that the chef could make special requests if it would make me feel better.

So, I asked that they put together a caesar salad with sliced steak and it arrived in about 20 minutes.

As I was ambulatory, the nurse on the floor informed me that there was a nutrition room for patients' use on each ward. Coffee, tea, and broth were always available, regular or diet ginger ale, a selection of crackers, breadstuffs for toasting and a fully stocked refrigerator/freezer with juices, fruits, ices, sherbets, ice cream, yogurts and milk.

It seems that the hospitals have to compete to keep their beds full and if the incoming patient has a choice, the food service can sway the decision.

In my case I chose the hospital for the care I'd receive, but being able to enjoy the food, not complain or reject it made my recovery easier.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. My wife is a hospital administrator and our dinner frequently consists of take out from her hospital cafeteria. Its pretty good and amazingly inexpensive. There is a large group of locals who have sunday brunch at the hospital, as if it is a restaurant.

    9 Replies
    1. re: carolinadawg

      Hospital Cafes and the food patients get are not usually the same, because there are not restrictions and balance isn't important. Most hospitals I've found are actually decent when it comes to their cafes, because remember, they are also catering to their employees.

      1. re: jhopp217

        While it's true they are not the same, they are often run by the same management out of one kitchen. When I was hospitalized I discovered I could order salmon burgers from the grill, even though that was never a menu choice for patients. My daughter used to get them, so I just tried writing it in and it worked! Sort of like the "secret" In-n-Out menu.

        1. re: jhopp217

          In my wife's hospital, its all the same, taking into account dietary restrictions, of course.

        2. re: carolinadawg

          I suspect that the food served to patients is about the same as ever. However, I have found that you can get a decent meal at my local (Berkeley) hospital cafeteria, named by a friend Chez Bates (Alta Bates Hospital and Norman Bates).

          The consistently good thing there are the soups. They make a very good beef root vegetable soup. They have Filippino chefs who make a tasty chicken adobo. They also roast turkey breasts whole one day a week and you can get a big sandwich with a side of cole slaw for a pittance. Since everyone else seems to be health conscious, I usually score a big piece of turkey skin too. And they have a sandwich bar where you can make your own tuna sandwich just like you would at home. For some reason lots of the local sandwich places no longer have green pickle relish. Chez Bates does and I like my tuna with onion and pickle relish. It's a great convenience to have a good cafeteria if you spend any time at the hospital visiting an ailing family member.

          I recall reading on this list once about a New Orleans hospital that had great gumbo!

          1. re: chocolatetartguy

            Completely agree about Alta Bates' consistently high quality, and the rapid turnover, I was impressed during a friends' recent stay there. And (unfortunately) a few years ago I was hospitalized in San Leandro and the food was truly was AMAZINGGG!!! I mean, have no doubt; it was certainly institutional, but exceptiona. When breakfast can be a spinach and feta omelet? And then some drugs and a good nap? :)

            1. re: mamachef

              How recent? Alta Bates Summit recently replaced their in-house food service department with contracted service, and the quality and selection went down the drain overnight, judging by the cafeteria food.

              1. re: GH1618

                I think I was last there 2-3 months ago. I am really sorry to hear that they are outsourcing their cooking.

                1. re: chocolatetartguy

                  They have outsourced the management, but the cooking is still on site. Immediately, the clam chowder was thinned down, and you can no longer count on it on Friday. They seem to have dropped the salmon burger which they had every day, and also the occasional oyster plate. The coffee was switched from the local Peerless to Starbuck's. It's annoying, because I go up there once a month and liked having lunch at the cafeteria.

                2. re: GH1618

                  Not that recent. Sorry to hear it.

          2. The hospital where I last spent 7 days is obviously not in this class. I nearly starved to death. It took 2 hours to get diabetic mid afternoon and evening snacks. A security guard had to open the kitchen for what I needed. The menu selections were abysmal and tasteless. Count yourself as being lucky.

            1. I'm glad you had a terrific experience! But I have a far different take on hospital meals than you did.

              My MIL was hospitalized at a premier facility here in SE Michigan when she was experiencing end of life symptoms. The food sent to her bedside was far less than palatable. And the price attached to these meals was worthy of a five star restaurant.

              Sorry. I think the Health Care Industry is playing a Game of Mirrors with us all as we age into their clutches.

              1. I was recently in Barnes Hospital in St Louis after having a TIA. I think that its worth noting that I went to school there as Barnes Hospital/Wash U Med is a World Class Institution. The food was ABYSMAL! I had a bite of what I assumed were breakfast eggs just to see if I could hold them down.

                If/when I need to be in hospital it won't be there!

                1. If only that were true for my last stay (3 days, childbirth, this past September). Food was awful. All the regular menus were low fat. They had a second extra menu where you could order some basics (pretty stereotypical kid food, really) but the regular menu was terrible. I know it wasn't just me being a snob; my husband commented on how unappetizing it looked. Luckily, I had been in for observation during my pregnancy, knew what to expect, had prepared food at home, and had it brought in to me when my husband and parents visited. I just had a baby--I don't need rubber chicken and diet margarine!

                  This was at a large hospital in a smaller city--definitely not New York or LA. I wasn't expecting gourmet cuisine but they could have done better.