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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.

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  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.

                  1. I am so glad you're okay!!
                    I was hospitalized about a year and a half ago, and they also went by the "order what you want when you want it" credo.
                    I, too, was shocked. And pleased. It made meals an event instead of just something to get through so the nurses could chart it. I enjoyed being in control of what I ate (and 99% of the time my eyes were MUCH bigger than my stomach) and happily overordered about 4x a day. The food quality was pretty good - not as industrial as in the past, as evidenced by the FRESH spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, et. al
                    It's a nice change. I was suprised by it and grateful for it.

                    1. They just turned the food service over to new management at the hospital I'm most familiar with, and they ruined it overnight. I used to stop in there for lunch sometimes when I was in the neighborhood. Now I won't even get a cup of coffee there when I have business in the hospital — I get it across the street. The last time I went in there for lunch I had been fasting for 14 hours for a blood test, and I couldn't find anything I wanted to eat. So sad.

                      1. I was just putting a few things away and found a menu from the second hospital stay, that week Caesar sald wasn't on the menu, but they made it for me anyway.

                        BTW, the hospital is in Bridgeport, CT

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: bagelman01

                          Did you have to pay for that or did insurance pick up the tab?

                          1. re: Fowler

                            I do pay the insurance premiums, as I am self-employed <VBG>.

                        2. There is use to be a Hosptial about 3 blocks from my parents grwoing up. The cafeteria food was all cooked by older lady's that tood tremendous pride in thier meals. ( really appreiciate it now looking back) ..

                          All during summer break we would make numerous lunch trips to the cafeteria. It was SOOO Cheap and Good. . I am talking maybe 3.50 for a Hamburger Fries Drinka and desert. Fast Food coulnd't even compare.

                          Now looking back its so werid the Hospital Cafe. was a huge part of my childhood HAHA

                          That hosptial is now closed and while the new ones food are not bad.. .they are no where near what we had growig up...

                          Bagleman.. that menu sounds better than most Restaruants ..

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Augie6

                            The food was surprisingly good. They let guests order from the same menu so they can eat with the patients in the rooms. Dining with my spouse on the same food at the same time helped lend a feeling of normalcy to my stay and definitely quickened my healing

                          2. I work for a medical school, and our affiliated hospital has very good food service. I'm not especially familiar with the patient meal service, but I don't hear a lot of complaints, and the food always smells good when I'm in that part of the building. The cafeteria service for employees/visitors/patients is very good. There are three different cafeterias, each with a different selection. They offer pizza, pasta, sandwiches, made to order salads, BBQ, Mexican, Chinese, sushi, and burgers/hot dogs every day. There also have a "world fare" selection that rotates daily. I've had some very good meals, and some just OK, but haven't had anything terrible yet.

                            On the other hand, I spent a lot of time visiting a family member at a hospital in Delaware this winter. The food was terrible. They went through the motions of letting the patient select their meals - a food service ambassador stopped by every morning with and iPad and went through the options. Unfortunately, the patient's selections only made it to the tray about half the time. My family member does have diet restrictions due to kidney disease, but they frequently offered him foods that are not recommended for someone with kidney failure. Even when he chose the kidney-friendly foods, the high potassium and phosphorus foods would still show up on his tray. The food itself was over cooked, bland, and unappealing. The only decent option was a roast beef sandwich. The cafeteria for employees and visitors was a little better, with decent pizza and desserts at least, but that gets old quickly when you have a loved on in the hospital for a month. I ended up cooking dinner and bringing it to the hospital several times.

                            1. After spending a week in the hospital and with no food for some days, I expected the slop I experienced when my mother was in there 10 years previous to be the norm and I was dreading it. I was more than pleasantly surprised.

                              Breakfast - cheese omelet, bell pepper omelet, fruit cups and small muffins - all very good. The coffee left a bit to be desired, but I can be a coffee snob. Cereals were also offered but I declined.

                              Lunch - grilled cheese, tuna salad sandwich - average, but can't complain

                              Dinner - Cheese ravioli in marinara sauce w/green beans (I've had worse in some italian restaurants). Chicken Paillard, mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli. Actually bordering on delicious.

                              I can't remember the other things I ate, but as someone who is very picky about restaurants, I'd say, I wouldn't be completely appalled receiving the entree dinners in an inexpensive restaurant.

                              1. Glad you're feeling better.

                                Your food service sounds like "private heart hospital" food. We have a couple of those attached to our system and their amenities are lovely.

                                However, though the care is great at our non-profit university hospital main flagship, our food service hasn't improved in 15 years. If anything, the push to reduce fat and salt across the board has resulted in some bland and unappealing food. Though there is a menu and you can choose selections for meals, the descriptions sound better than the reality.

                                7 Replies
                                1. re: DuchessNukem

                                  Not a private heart hospital (although I've seen there advertising including food service) but a local Catholic Hospital (I'm not). The other hospital in town is owned by the Yale medical system in New Haven. Having been raised and lived in New Haven for most of my life I have an anti-Yale bias. My MIL was in the opther hospital this year for 10 days and I was there at many meal times and the choices and quality did not compare.

                                  Again we are talking about meals for patients with no restrictions. My youngest daughter kept asking me to order the fresh baked chocolate chip cookies for desert at each meal so she could take them home. I don't eat them, and ordered a fruit plate as a starter that I ate for deserrt. Wonderful fresh melon, berries and grapes.

                                  1. re: bagelman01

                                    I'm glad you're ok, B'man. I was sure you weren't talking about Yale-NH and I don't know if St. Raph's is still there.
                                    The last several times I was in the hospital I found that most of the items on the menu were quite good. They would have scampi as an entree and French pastries for dessert but, what really stands out in my mind was a stay in a now defunct hospital where I could order wine with my dinner. That was back in the '70's.

                                    1. re: mucho gordo


                                      I hate Yale New Haven, at least when I was born in that building it was called Grace New Haven. St Raphael's is still there, but as of July 1 it will be owned and operated by Yale, so they've lost me as both a patient and a donor to the St Raphael Foundation.

                                      The food at St Vincent's was really good. I didn't see alcohol on the menu, but as I have been on anti-biotics for more than 30 days I wouldn't have been able to have any.

                                      The entrees were prepared just right. Nothing was overcooked. I was amazed to get fresh green beans that were bright green and crunchy. The salads and fruit were extremely fresh and ripe. The baked goods were excellent. It really made a difference in a very boring set of inpatients stays.

                                      1. re: bagelman01

                                        I remember it as Grace-NH, also and did volunteer work there when I was 16. I have no feelings toward it whatsoever even tho my mother passed away ther. I may be wrong but it just doesn't strike me as being a 'cutting edge' facility under the prestigious Yale banner.

                                        1. re: bagelman01

                                          YNH food pretty much sucks. First hand experience & seeing what my wife ate.

                                          If you are not restricted in your intake - carry away is the choice. There are so many options in the New Haven Area - Lao Sze Tuan pork shank anybody?

                                          The only thing I've found I could get down at YNH was the fruit salad.

                                          WHY DO THEY INSIST ON LOW-FAT MILK?
                                          Do they know what that does to coffee?

                                          And a little lard is just fine - no trans-fats! Very healthy.

                                          1. re: algct

                                            Can't tell you why YNH insists on Low Fat Milk, St V's had a choice of whole, 2% or skim milk, and individual pcs of half and half were served with coffee.

                                            I was at YNH last week visiting my Brother who was in for a couple of days for an orthopedic adjustment. I brought supper straight from Sally's on Wooster Street, biggest problem was the nurses hinting that they'd like to share

                                        2. re: mucho gordo

                                          A carafe of vino and a steak and lobster dinner when I gave birth - many, many years ago. Too funny. I was too exhausted and sore to enjoy it. Thanks for the memories!

                                    2. I was in the hospital in January and again in February and the hospital went by the same method, order what you want when you want it! The food was pretty decent but if you were in for more than a few days, it would get pretty boring as it wasn't a huge selection.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: LikestoEatout

                                        My hospital offered a fish, beef, chicken and pasta option every night for dinner. Lunches were a little less exciting, but the variety for breakfast was surprising. Muffins, eggs, bagels, hot and cold cereals and fruit. Usually you could choose a few of them

                                      2. I work for a huge academic healthcare center which recently implemented a new "room service" type menu for patients. There are multiple options for various diets (e.g. low sodium, low fat, glycemic, etc.) The patient satisfaction reviews are through the roof! There are even seasonal options that were developed by a local chef who is a James Beard nominee. He routinely holds cooking classes for the hospital chefs that prepare the food. Pretty impressive.

                                        1. I'm going to print this and send it to the director of food services at the hospital where I work. That sounds like the way to run the patient food process.
                                          As I work on the computers and printers in the Diet Offfice back in the kitchen, I've still heard some scary exchanges, from both sides. Like the patient's mother (patient was in her early 50s, in with a heart attack) who called, furious that her daughter's food was awful and wanted something awful like french fries and a milkshake for her.
                                          But then sometimes the people in the kitchen are guilty of not going far enough to be sure the patients are getting good food. Usually they try, but it only takes one short-timer or an old-timer that's having a bad day to mess things up. I like to think that they try to make the restricted diets tasty, but one never knows.

                                          1. Hospitals here actually have a take out menu that you can order from and pick up with a 24 hour notice and the menu looks great!


                                            When SO was in the hospital about two (2) years ago, there was a meeting with a nutritionist and besides the dietary restrictions, it was "what do you like". SO was in for a four (4) day stay and the first meal that I witnessed was a true salmon patty (not out of a can that I make) with roasted red pepper sauce. I stuck around not only to see his recovery but also to see what was for the next meal!

                                            Sadly, at the Mess Tent (it was a VA hospital) the food sucked . . . sorry for the language. It really, really did and I noticed that the vending machines were all emptied out in that area.

                                            1. Our local hospital (Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, MA) is similar -- simple snacks (crackers, juice, etc.) available at any time on each floor, and a menu that you can order from at any time during the day of food that is actually appetizing and healthy. I agree that it makes a big difference when you are recovering in the hospital! I had both my kids there and I tell my friends to give birth there too. Not only for the food, but I see attention to the food as part of a pattern of caring about the patient experience.

                                              Glad you are feeling better (and that you at least had decent meals while you weren't)!

                                              1. This reminds me of a totally sweet thing the hospital in my hometown does for new moms: at some point during their stay, the nurses bring in a table for two with tablecloth and real dishes and flowers, and mom and dad get to choose from a few "gourmet" options -- steak, salmon, etc, plus sides -- as a celebratory post-baby meal. They can't provide alcohol but are happy to turn a blind eye to dad's beer bottle or mom's glass of wine. They'll "babysit" while you eat or leave the baby with you if that's your preference.

                                                The last time my sister-in-law had a baby there, the nurses told her very firmly that she was to call them for the slightest whim, even if it was cinnamon toast fifteen minutes after breakfast or a burger and fries at two a.m. It really is marvelous.