When my daughter was three, she had a severe respiratory infection that required overnight hospitalization. Our local hospital is medically cutting-edge, and I was confident she’d receive the best care. What shocked me was the food they served her. Similarly, my father-in-law, who passed away in 2011, spent the final four months of his life in and out of the hospital. Again, the daily fare was not only tasteless and vile from a culinary standpoint, but a nutritional mess. Medical science is advancing at an unprecedented speed. What is going on with the nutrition science that guides hospital food services? Is anybody home?
This is not exactly news. The Internet is littered with stories about such hospital meals as roast beef for cardiac patients, and wings and hotdogs for kids. Many, many hospitals have one or more fast food restaurants in their lobbies, or just take it upon themselves to offer such dishes to patients as chicken-fried steak. A British fellow photographed a series of meals and challenged people to identify the food—”hospital food bingo.” Over half of the respondents could not! Kids are loaded up with white bread, Jell-O, cookies, syrupy and slimy fruit, funky processed meats, and gray, lifeless vegetables that even a vegan would rather starve than eat. A study published in Academic Pediatrics found that in Californian hospitals only 7% of entrees classify as being “healthy.” The saturated fat and sodium levels in much hospital food could alone keep you as an inpatient. And try finding a healthy snack in the lobby shops. Chips, candy, soda—you might as well be at the gas station.
Hospitals feed thousands of people daily, and, granted, it’s complicated. But these institutions are supposed to heal us, not clog our arteries and send our blood sugar levels soaring. Are doctors and hospital administrators the last to know that proper nutrition is essential to good health?
Happily, there are now some hospitals that take seriously the wellness and nutritional needs of patients while still offering excellent medical care. Henry Ford Hospital of West Bloomfield, MI is one example. When you enter the building, you feel as if you’re in a hotel. The lobby’s “Main Street” is populated with shops selling healthy organic foods, green tea, meditation tapes, etc., and a wellness center that offers massage, yoga, nutrition counseling, and fitness and cooking classes. Perhaps best of all is Henry’s Cafe—the lobby cafeteria where whole food, much of it plant-based, all of it delicious, is what’s on offer. Big colorful salads, brown-rice sushi rolls, whole-grain sandwiches, healthy juices. And the hospital food service utilizes the same principles, so patients are offered similar fare up in their rooms.
I’ve come across many reports that hospital administrators respond very well to complaints and suggestions about their food service. If you or a loved one are in the unfortunate position of being hospitalized and subjected to the typical hospital menu, don’t just take it. Say something to your doctor, write a letter to the head of the hospital, complain to a nurse or whomever else will listen. Hospitals are businesses, and we are their customers. Plus, their overt mission is to help people get better. If they mess up medically, we call them on it. Why not when they serve sickening food?