Hospital Food: It's Enough to Make You Sick

BlogHer Original Post

From Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" initiative to "Meatless Monday," the idea of healthier food in schools, restaurants and homes is sweeping the nation. But hospitals -- the places that exist to make you feel better -- are still known for serving food that is far less healthful than it should be.

Hospital food

Kelly of Kelly the Kitchen Kop railed against the options available to her mother during a hospital stay last year. She was horrified by the lack of healthy fats, preponderance of artificial sweetener and butter substitutes, and the amount of high fructose corn syrup on the menu from which her mother had to choose meals.

It wasn't easy for me to let it go when I saw what was coming up on her meal tray, or the food choices on her list to pick from. First of all, she's diabetic, you'd think her food options might look a little better. Maybe they were better than the average patient's choices, and that is a scary thought, indeed.

Sarah Leavitt of Sarah Leavitt dot com expressed her hospital food disgust with two cartoon-annotated menus from a post-surgery stay in a Vancouver hospital. "This has to be one of the saddest most deeply wrong things in the world -- that the food in the hospital is barely edible," Leavitt says. "Sickening in more ways than one."

The abundance of processed food on hospital menus irks Vreni of wellness tips, as well.

Hospital food doesn't have to be this way. It can be nutritious, delicious and sustainable. It is starting to happen in Oregon, for example, where some hospitals are offering hotel-style room service with delicious, healthy foods on the menu, cooked to order. Less food is wasted because it is actually eaten, and surprisingly, they have not increased their food budget. Food profits from cafeterias have gone up, due to the more food being served. Imagine patients asking for recipes! Imagine calling your hospital and then swinging by to pick up a take-out order! London, England is also doing much to put healthier food into hospitals. Hospitals can and should be taking the lead on nutritious, sustainable food, and I'm glad to see it beginning to happen.

Carolyn Jung of Food Galis one blogger who located nutritious, delicious and sustainable hospital food. She profiled the Stanford Hospital's "Farm Fresh" menu option, which, as of last summer, was only available to patients on an unrestricted diet at their evening meal. According to Jung's post, the hospital had plans to roll the local and sustainable food options out to other patients who are under sodium, fat or other restrictions, as well as to food service outlets throughout the hospital. According to Jung, Stanford had figured out how to make this an affordable option for the institution and its patients.

So in this dreary economy, in which cash-strapped consumers are buying less organic food, why is Stanford Hospital taking on the potentially added cost of providing an organic menu for patients?

With 450 patients in its hospital at any one time, administrators believe they will be able to negotiate purchasing agreements with local farmers, many within a 200-mile radius of Stanford, so that the organics menu will be cost-effective.

"We believe that part of the healing process for patients involves eating food as fresh as possible, in which nutrients are preserved,” says Shelley Hebert, executive director of public affairs for the hospital. "We also want to educate patients about healthful eating and cooking when they leave the hospital."

If you or a family member has stayed in a hospital recently, what food experiences did you have? Was the food served to patients and visitors fresh and healthy? Share your stories in the comments.

Genie blogs about gardening and food at The Inadvertent Gardener, and tells very short tales at 100 Proof Stories. She also tells stories with photos at 5x52.

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