Hospital Food You Can Get Excited About

Bland, institutional food can be bad for patients in many ways.

Comments: 87

  1. I was a patient in a well-known rehabilitation center in Westchester County, NY for three weeks following a stroke. I can not say enough about the therapists who worked with me each day. I would not have made the progress I did if it were not for all of them. But the food was absolutely horrible. I gave up on eating any of the meat that was served. I will not make any of you who are eating breakfast sick, so for a while I picked at the vegetables and maybe some plain pasta. Then the dietician made me aware of some foods that were always available like cereal or PB & J, so those became my staples. Just at the time I should have been building muscle mass, I lost a considerable amount of weight. I hope the head honchos of the facility sees this article.

  2. My local hospital, Huntington Memorial, serves tasty food with plenty of choice. I appreciate the good service and the contribution of makes to a quick recovery.

  3. @Andrea: rehabs are worse than hospitals, and worst of all are long-term care centers, like nursing homes, dementia facilities and Assisted Living. The worst food goes to those who cannot complain or simply LEAVE or order takeout food -- i.e., the frail elderly with cognitive issues.

  4. -- While the pleasures of a good meal are gratifying, the real reason hospitals should offer better food is that nutrition is a pillar of good health, says Dr. David Eisenberg of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Dr. Eisenberg says the jury is no longer out on the benefits of eating a more plant-based diet with less refined foods, sugar and red meat. A study published last year in JAMA estimated that nearly half of the deaths from heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes are caused by poor diet. -- I agree with both statements, except that I would go further and recommend no animals products or processed foods as much as possible. Plant based whole foods properly prepared are delicious! As well as healthier and much more sustainable.

  5. @Dr. J: so .... when a patient is sick and weak in the hospital.... you wish to force them to eat a vegan diet they will hate. Good luck with that.

  6. Last time I was in a hospital. All the food came in plastic wrapped individual servings from China. I assume this was an institutional cost saving measure. Kitchen staff need no skill other than reading the list and placing the correct items on the tray. Everyone I know who goes into the hospital has their family bring outside food.

  7. @Dee Oh Dear! Watch the hospital bills explode with Chinese tariffs increasing food costs.

  8. I've worked at the health system for over 20 years and the food is consistently an issue with the patients. It's horrible, unhealthy, and embarrassing to serve to our patients. Chef Bruno was hired over a year ago and we were promised he would train the cooks and revamp the food program. The patients still get the same inedible food. Then admins wonder why we are not getting good press ganey surveys for patient experience. Food is a big part of the pt experience and a very cheap and simple issue to fix. I'd like the administrators to eat here for a week.

  9. Every hospital CEO must eat a complete patient meal daily. The menu will change!

  10. @jelly Spot on! Have those who can create change eat the food they are expecting patient to eat.

  11. @jelly: to be fair to "Chef Bruno" -- he probably has an unforgiving budget that gets cut regularly -- he is under pressure to "cook healthy" which means today no fats, no sugar, no salt, no spices -- and make it fast & cheap -- plus make special stuff for people with allergies or certain conditions -- and often the staffers are not trained in culinary arts, but are just minimum wage flunkies. Seriously: you try to made a really tasty appetizing meal FROM SCRATCH with no salt, no sugar, no fat and no spices and see how it turns out.

  12. Decades ago studies showed that good food helped people recover faster and had shorter hospital stays. No attention was paid then and I don't expect much attention to the advantages of good food will be paid now. In most of our institutions food is nothing but an afterthought. At the physical rehab center at the local VA people's dogs are allowed to visit. My brother had a stay there, and one evening at dinnertime, my other brother visited with the three family dogs. The food was so horrible that my brother put it on the floor for the dogs. Guess what. Even the dogs wouldn't eat it.

  13. @Carole A. Dunn: that's funny but I also tried that experiment with food I snuck home -- uneaten -- from my elderly aunt's Assisted Living facility. Mystery meats...dry-as-dust chicken breasts....gloppy sauces...congealed gravy....cold noodles all stuck together...and I offered to my border collie, who has been known to hork down garbage she has found on walks. She turned her nose up at the institutional food. 'Nuff said.

  14. My wife had several stays in a hospital recently. Three babies and three surgeries all in the past 4 years. Everytime we go she's allowed to pick the same food from the same menu. All the 'juices' with high fructose corn syrup and labeled "10% juice". Terribly tasting food loaded with preservatives. Hospitals are for people to get better and recover. Food and nutrition is the most important part of that. When patients are discharged they are often told to 'exercise, get enough sleep, eat a healthy diet'. I would assume many people think that the food served in a hospital must be a prime representation of what they should be eating. Really? My wife has considered doing presentations at board of director meetings at local hospitals. Will it change? Hopefully. But not likely if it's going to cut into their profits.

  15. The food being served in my mother’s Nursing home was downright disgusting. Things like meatloaf and potatoes were dished out with a scoop and looked like a baseball made of dog food. I asked if there weren’t some creative ways to present food in “small plates” that might actually encourage the patients to want to eat it. They had no respect at all for the residents.

  16. @Cecelia I can empathize, a dear friend just recently passed away, had to endure food in an assisted living facility while she was there. When she couldn't eat what was served (quite often), the default choice was American cheese on white bread - Yuk! Fortunately, she had a small fridge in her room for her emergency stash.

  17. I've been a chef for thirty five years and have been Appalled at the food served in hospitals and retirement homes. How can someone gain their health when eating sugary pre packaged dead food? Food is such a simple way to provide pleasure in a hospital setting. I dream of making it top notch.

  18. There are plenty of chefs and culinary students around. There are plenty of menus and food choices.

  19. I just had a five day stay in memorial Sloan Kettering in nyc. I was expecting the food to be terrible. I had recently been a regular visitor of two parents at rehab. We had to bring in our food for the patient. So it came as a HUGE surprise the food was amazing at Mskcc!!! Delicious, interesting and many many choices. If this large institution could provide such wonderful food. All others should follow suit. I cannot tell you what a difference it made in my stay.

  20. @Sue Hi, just wanted to add for everyone reading, if you want to bring in food for a patient, please clear it with the nursing staff, whether your loved one is in the ER, hospital, rehab facility, or nursing home. Not just for dietary reasons but also because they might be scheduled for a test, surgery which requires them to not eat for hours before; their swallowing is not good and they can choke, etc. I have brought in food for family before as well but even as a medical professional, I will notify the nursing staff so they know and can notify me if there are any issues.

  21. I am a retired physician. I DID have a full nutrition course at my medical school (U. of Illinois Chicago). But I have some serious food allergies--wheat, peanuts, and especially shellfish. I have to be vigilant about cross-contamination, especially to peanuts and shellfish. So I wouldn't want a hospital to cook with ANY of the BIG 4 allergens for adults--peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish--no matter how "gourmet" the food was.

  22. @Ellie So because of your allergies, no one at the hospital may have these items? What about Celiac disease (not merely "gluten intolerance"), we need to drop all wheat, and lactose - can't have any of that. And there are vegans - no animal product in the kitchens. Nightshades are bad for arthritis patients. What is left? Yes, perhaps have a limited corner of the kitchen free of what you call "BIG 4" and gluten, but let the majority of sick people enjoy their food.

  23. Regrettably, I have recently become an afficianato of hospital cuisine. I was just a guest at NYU Langone Hospital in New York City and then the Rusk Institute, also in New York City. The food at NYU Langone was generally quite good, but I must say the food at the Rusk Institute was uniformly excellent. I was pleasantly surprised. I was on the heart healthy diet. The menu had choies and they were all good. My wife is a hobby gourmet cook, so my baseine is high, and the hospital meals surpassed my expectations.

  24. @Martin Fries, while hopefully you can put hospital cuisine aside and go back to your wife's home-cooked meals ... it DOES seem that some healthcare facilities offer pretty good choices, and others do not. Anecdotally, relatives who stayed in long term care facilities / nursing homes were served really unappealing food. The facilities would then offer Boost or Ensure, as a way to get them to consume calories and presumably some nutrients. Ugh. Mom's nursing home didn't seem to believe in vegetables. :( On the other hand, I had reason to stay at two healthcare facilities in the past six years. In both cases, the nutritionist or dietician listened to my requests and suggested that I order "OFF the usual menu". So, I'd usually have something like a banana plus oatmeal, eggs, or Greek yogurt for breakfast; some combo of salads, broiled fish, vegetables, brown rice, sweet potatoes, and soup for lunch and dinner. I'm pretty sure that these choices were of better quality, in part because they were simpler than the 'chicken cordon bleu' or 'boeuf bourgignon' [sp] on the main menu.

  25. Kudos to Northwell for doing this. I am a nurse of 40 years, and have also been a patient numerous times, and there is no doubt that meal time for a patient is very important for the body and mind. And the point about the amount of food wasted is so true - and this does translate into a lot of money wasted. I wonder if a study had ever been done to calculate the amount of money lost because of food not eaten, and replacement meals? It might well be that it would be cost-effective for all hospital systems to upgrade their kitchens and hire talented chefs well-versed in the nutrition.

  26. How ironic it always has been that a place people go to to become healthy typically is useless when it comes to the most important parts of being healthy: eating right and sleeping well. And our governments don't even bother to regulate the quality of food in the hospitals. Four years ago I noticed Albany Medical Center is doing better. I have to go with everything puréed, and they do that. When I was in there four years ago the quality was good, but they had no imagination. Every day the menu choices were the same: chicken or beef. Three months ago I had to go take care of an infection and was pleased to see there was much more variety. It doesn't have to be expensive for staff to know what they are doing, care for what they are doing, and do it well. If insurance companies control the medical-industrial model, they should understand that patients recover faster and better if they eat well and enjoy it. They should lean on the hospitals to get serious about earning Michelin stars at fast food prices.

  27. Of all the problems in America that need fixing....of all the the things that truly need funding.... You really think the government should be in the business of regulating food palatability in hospitals? Should be spending money on that? I’m a liberal but I’m not irrational. They can’t even regulate care for sick patients in the VA system. Plus the GOP doesn’t want to regulate ANYTHING that interferes with profits. Hard-core Libertarians don’t really want the government to exist at all, let alone regulate anything. Trump wants to bring back asbestos. How about we fight these battles first? And as for spending our money.... How about we spend the money on getting everyone insured instead? How about we spend the money to reduce maternal mortality? How about we spend the money to provide every kid in America with a decent education? A place to live beyond a homeless shelter?!

  28. Visiting a friend at at Atlanta hospital, I was told he had turkey, in varying forms, in every meal. It was a revelation to him and probably healthier than his regular diet and accepted with good humor. For those with a better home diet, though, this would be harder to accept.

  29. I had a hip replacement at Sharp Coronado Hospital in San Diego 2 years ago. The surgery went well, and I was up in a room quickly-and starving. Then they brought me lunch, and I was flabbergasted. I expected creamed corn jimbo, but I got a wonderful chicken breast, perfectly cooked vegetables. It was the beginning of the best part of being in the hospital. The food was terrific. Truthfully, I wasn't in a hurry to leave. Along with the excellent care I received, I knew I would miss the food. No offense, husband....

  30. I’ve been a nurse for 38 years at over 15 hospitals (l was a travel nurse). Whenever I wanted to break the ice with my patients I always told them my favorite hospital joke: This place used to be a restaurant but everyone kept getting sick so they turned it into a hospital! Works every time!

  31. My husband had a hip replacement at Newton-Wellesley Hospital in Newton, MA this past July. The food wasn’t good, it was really good. I was shocked at the attention given the meals. It did make his 4 day stay there more bearable.

  32. The food at Hospital for Special Surgery is good. During my stay there I noticed that the patient sharing my room was enjoying a bowl of fresh strawberries. I asked the nurse how does one get a bowl of those? She picked up the phone, called the kitchen and within 5 minutes I had my strawberries. Nice!

  33. The only hospital in Asheville NC has the worst food in the world. Unseasoned, overcooked, cheap quality to begin with. (And I am not that picky - I think airline food is fun.) Trapped two extra nights by a blizzard, I lived on fruit, granola bars, and yogurt brought by friends.

  34. @ann: you were lucky to have friends to sneak you food! if you can do that....great. But it isn't as easy as it sounds. By the time your friend's drag in with a box of pizza or whatever....it's ice cold...no plates, forks, napkins, beverages, etc. And will they come 3 times a day? Breakfast in a hospital is often at 7:30AM! The days in a hospital are ENDLESS....those patients who feel well enough to eat are often starving most of the time. Just try to get something SIMPLE -- like a bowl of soup or a sandwich! it's nearly impossible or they find ever-creative ways to mung it up.

  35. Hospitals don't feet just the patients ... through their cafeterias, they also feed the patients' family caregivers and hospital staff. All I can say is that the hospital where my dying mother was treated and I had a soul-satisfying, comforting meal when I needed it most.

  36. @Suzanne: boy you were lucky. I've clocked more time in hospitals...rehabs....nursing homes....Assisted Living...dementia facilities......than I care to think about, and I can count the EDIBLE (not tasty -- just not disgusting) meals on one hand. I've been served every manner of lukewarm mystery meats and slop that is supposedly "casseroles" -- globs of stuck together noodles -- lumpy mashed potatoes from mixes -- congealed gravies -- and the consistent favorite of such places: the "fruit plate" that consists of runny cottage cheese (no fat, of course) swimming in a plateful of canned fruit cocktail.

  37. Assuming that ill, sick, injured, otherwise physically impaired people don't need edible, tasty food is like assuming someone with a cold, sprained ankle, or earache doesn’t need a good doctor. Good care including tasty, appealing meals can make the difference. In the case of food what the "experts" need to check on is food allergies or even aversions. Otherwise, whatever is suitable to the condition (no chewy items for broken jaws) should be tasty and well prepared.

  38. Ten years ago I had my gallbladder removed at a 30-year-old, local hospital with traditional (bad) food and poor post-op nursing care. The operation went OK, but between the food and the post-op care I couldn't wait to flee the hospital. Four years ago I chose to have prostate surgery at a 120-mile-away hospital with high-quality medical/nursing care. I was happy to go home after the operation, but the quality of care--and, surprisingly, the food--at this hospital made a very unpleasant and life-threatening experience almost enjoyable. All the rooms at this hospital are private and have a large, wall-mounted, interactive screen on which to watch TV, surf the internet, read and send emails and, hard to believe, select the times and menus for each meal. BTW, this was not some exclusive hospital for celebrities and moguls; it serves a mix of inner-city residents and suburban Medicare patients like me. If such a hospital can provide tasty and healthy meals (and other amenities such as comfortable waiting rooms and cafeterias for patients' families), I don't understand why other hospitals cannot do likewise. Hospital administrators need to realize that, except for some emergencies, most patients have a choice of which hospital to use. Witting patients will increasingly choose hospitals that offer a quality experience, including good food. To put it another way, good and healthy hospital food can make people feel good, which very likely enhances medical outcomes.

  39. Actually, quite a few patients have minimal choice of hospitals (other than ERs in an emergency, for some) if they want their hospitals stays covered by their insurance. I have zero choice.

  40. @Ro Ma: maybe you on Medicare can choose. My insurance limits me to specific hospitals in specific locations.

  41. I have eaten lots of hospital food over the years, in different hospitals, on both coasts, both as an employee and also as a relative of a hospitalized patient. Some of the best include a chidren's hospital that had a section catering to children's tastes and one for adults and two separate hospitals which provided menus/ food-on-demand. For the latter, the menus were more expansive during appointed breakfast/ lunch/ and dinner hours but off-hours (24 hours around the clock) patients, relatives, and workers could still choose from a limited menu. People often miss meals because they are working or they are off for a test / being questioned or they don't feel well at a particular time only to feel ravenous later. Finally, the hospital I am around today has vending machines which not only sell junk food but are supplied by two local healthy caterers. You would pick the item you want, pay for it, and then slide the door open. Items include couscous salad, curry chicken wraps, tofu salads, lentil soup, etc. Quite a change from the vending machine microwavable White Castle burgers when I was training! (I do like them though.)

  42. In May I was a patient at Northwell Manhasset, in Long Island. I went to the emergency room for what I thought was an intense stomach virus. It turned out to be a small bowel obstruction brought about by scar tissue. Although I had a nasal gastric tube and didn’t begin to eat until 4 days into my 5-day stay, I was impressed by both the contents of the menu and the quality of the food one I was permitted to eat. There was a wide variety of entrees, sides and deserts offered. The one dinner I ate, roast chicken and mashed potatoes, was nicely cooked and well presented. For lunch I was able to choose a gentle diet of soup, fresh rolls with butter, yogurt and Cozee Shack pudding. A hospital stay is often a lonely, frightening and painful experience. Taking a little more care in the kitchen so that meals can be something to truly look forward to, instead of just providing a macabre game of “What kind of meat is this supposed to be?” can go a long way toward bolstering patient morale.

  43. There is health opportunity here not mentioned. If the food is truly tasty there is the opportunity to provide recipes to patients for dishes they like. Hospitals could help change the diets of some people by introducing them to delicious dishes and making all recipes available to patients. Think outside the box, a little.

  44. Last summer I spent a total of nine days in two different hospitals, undergoing observation and tests. The food at both was all but inedible. I was only allowed one meal per day on most days, however, being on NPO orders most of the time. How does that help the patient?

  45. My husband's bedside diet after his triple bypass was pretty good. Mine in the medical cafeteria? Horrific! I like salt. I enjoy salt. My low blood pressure doesn't mind salt. But for the first time in my life I threw away a meal because it was too salty to eat: salty cheese + salty ham deep fried into something called a sandwich. Many other dishes were just as bad. I wound up eating lots of yogurt and wondering: Is this how they create new patients?

  46. I was recently hospitalized with a severe arm infection, for which it took the doctors some time to find an effective antibiotic. Most of my treatment was simply waiting for the drugs to take effect. I had plenty of time to talk with the staff and generally observe how things were being run. The food service was bizarre. Some days there would be broccoli and carrots perfectly steamed, and on other days string beans that had obviously been dumped out of a can. The worst things were the snacks intended to maintain my blood sugar. Sometimes there would be sliced apples, but on one occasion someone dropped off a plastic-wrapped sandwich with some kind of paste filling, at room temperature from having sat on a service cart for who knows how many hours. On a ward for the treatment of infectious diseases this is not a welcome thing to receive. I threw a lot of the hospital food away, and got my family to bring in real food from the outside world. However, it seems to me that even on a tight budget, it’s still possible to do some things well, and that hospital administrators should focus on doing these. I also think that it would be spiritually nourishing to be served by people that actually worked with food, as opposed to receiving pre-made packages and distributing them on carts.

  47. My wife was recently hospitalized at Northwell Lenox Hill Hospital for 2 days. The food for her was was typical cafeteria style food. Nothing to get excited about. I still had to bring her food for each meal. The food in the visitors cafeteria was not appealing at all. End of story.

  48. The hospital food available at the University of Iowa Medical Intensive Care Unit was excellent in terms of confection and variety. The loaded baked potato was what the doctor prescribed to raise morale for one in a normal diet.

  49. Felt very good to read the article. Fantastic innovation. Hospital entry itself makes one sick forget treatment and getting admitted. Imagine eating hospital food, my God ! Tasty food is important and not the bland one.

  50. Even prisons recognized long ago that good food was essential to morale and population satisfaction. It is amazing that hospitals have taken so long to recognize this fact.

  51. Prison food is atrocious. It’s a punishment in and of itself. Have you actually spoken to someone formerly incarcerated? Or read an article on prisoner rights or prison reform? They say it’s garbage.

  52. I love tasty food just like everyone else. And the hospital food I was finally allowed to eat (in January after not being allowed solids for practically 2 weeks while hospitalized) actually tasted great. The food wasn’t gourmet or anything really special. But it tasted excellent. Why? I think it goes to show how our palletes are spoiled with tasty food. But that doesn’t mean that non-spicy, non-gourmet, etc. food isn’t good. It’s just not what we’re used to. I still remember that steamed chicken with mashed potatoes, roasted turkey with cooked carrots, and the soup - oh that 1st bowl of vegetable soup tasted so yummy after feeling like I was starving. And even though that food would have been considered bland, it tasted great. But even more importantly, it was healthy and nourishing, which is the whole point while you’re there.

  53. @Theresa: but the vast majority of patients are not on a liquid diet or stomach feeding tube. And they are not going to be too happy to eat STEAMED chicken! YUCK! you were probably pretty desperate to find steamed chicken appetizing. Unless somebody in for an intestinal problem....there is no reason to feed them steamed, boiled MUSH with no seasoning.

  54. Working in a hospital, I've thrown away many appetizing meals. Why? Because some of our patients would prefer to load up on chips,cookies candy and soda and " juice" (concentrate, mostly sugar and water). Pizza, Chinese food , Mc Donald's and lasagna are the remnants in the "patient fridge". Unfortunately to most, healthy salads and fruit aren't " comforting " Too bad. The foods offered are certainly better than those that some choose to consume.

  55. @Susan: do you regularly eat the food offered to patients? Because most of it is disgusting. Healthy food does not have to be disgusting, nor does it always have to be "fruits & salads". A patient who is HUNGRY and wants a satisfying HOT meal is not going to be happy with "fruits and salads" served COLD and may ask family or friends to bring them something hearty to eat. Trust me....people paying $3000 a day would not ask family to bring them lukewarm McDonalds in a bag if they could get HOT fresh foods from the hospital kitchen.

  56. The food and juices in hospitals don’t promote wellness or reinforce healing. I lost 20 lbs during my 21 day hospital stay at St. Luke’s because I refused to eat. The juices: loaded with high fructose corn syrup, I couldn’t even get a bone broth; they gave me something so high in sodium and processed I contemplated becoming a patient advocate. The food they were providing would’ve made me incredibly sick. I asked my friends and family for organic juices and I ate Kind bars.

  57. Having read almost all comments, I am struck by the fact that there are apparently hospitals that provide satisfactory if not excellent meals. How is it that such providers do not set the standard? Could the AMA be cajoled into enforcing a higher standard than basic nutrition? Such should also apply to services such as Meals on Wheels.

  58. ‘Many hospital chefs have no culinary experience’. Nice! Add that to the fact that most doctors have no nutritional training to speak of and the health care crisis comes into better focus. The total lack of interest in nutrition by the medical industry (and it’s nothing more than an industry at this point) combined with the overwhelming cost of a hospital stay is nothing short of criminal.

  59. One point not mentioned--opinions can vary a LOT as to what is 'good food'. I would argue for the good and fresh nutrition and heartily endorse improving institutional food. But there a lot of people who won't eat a vegetable, prefer deep fried anything or have never had un-sugared juices. For this population, processed foods are normal and taste good. Cooking to satisfy varied tastes in a very cost sensitive environment sounds like a terrific challenge.

  60. @A Bookish Anderson: I do think it has challenges, but it a field that has been studied a lot and it used to be done better. It's not rocket science to feed sick people simple, tasty and appetizing foods. Someone mentioned "prime rib and salmon" -- that's unnecessary. Sick people rarely want a heavy, rich meal. They need light foods that are nutritious but taste good! Scrambled eggs...hot toast....soups....tender, easy to cut chicken or fish....HOT! temperature is extremely important....good-tasting sandwiches with fresh ingredients. This is not rocket science. We put men on the moon, but somehow it is impossible for hospitals and nursing homes to serve hot foods HOT and cold foods COLD....

  61. Great! This is also good for the employees who work there and the family who visit. Omg. I remember the god forsaken sugar bombs they passed of as protein shakes. They are a diabetics nightmare. What corporate genii got that incorporated into the hospital canon of healthcare. Yuck. I hope this isn't only for the wealthy. Or that it drives up cost even more. Health care can be such a downer in that way.

  62. @Steph: if anything is handled pretty strictly, it is food for diabetics in the hospital. I've seen diabetics served horrible, inedible tasteless food but not smoothies full of sugary ingredients. The hospital dieticians actually count carbs pretty strictly. If you were served that, it had to be an accident. The greater problem is SENIORS -- often frail, dehydrated, not eating well at home due to their declining faculties -- and they get to the hospital are served gross, unpalatable foods. I only WISH my senior relatives were given a delicious, tasty smooth with LOTS of calories -- but despite my begging, I could not even get them a cup of generic yogurt. It was day after day of dry-as-dust boneless skinless chicken breasts -- very hard to chew -- for seniors with no or bad teeth.

  63. After cataract surgery last week in CT, after not having eaten all day I was presented with: A sandwich made on white Wonder type bread and a slice of processed cheeese. A cup of fruit with 18 added grams of sugar. A tube of mustard. A bottle of water. I drank the water. Even the nurses had to admit how disgusting the “ meal” was and apologized profusely. I can’t even imagine what the in-house patients must be receiving as “ nutrition.”

  64. @LJB: that actually isn't so bad, because it's just a sandwich....not some slimy "mystery casserole" with noodles that have all congealed together in a big mass. I visited a friend at her Assisted Living cottage last week, and stayed through lunch (I did not eat: they charge visitors $10 for a meal!)....she was offered a choice of the special, which was "beef stroganoff" (for lunch!) or a hot dog on a bun (microwaved). She got the stroganoff. It looked like a mound of dog food...cold...congealed noodles in a lump. She didn't eat it, of course. There was a small salad served -- no dressing -- just lettuce and KALE -- she can't eat that due to her teeth. They've also decided to force this 95 year old lady to drink only "thickened liquids" which are essentially having to drink snail slime, so she refuses most beverages or drinks only a sip or two. She's losing weight, but nobody seems to care. When I complained about the food, the staff got extremely snippy with me...."you are not family", was their response.

  65. Schools, hospitals and prisons all basically have the same caterers/suppliers. It's all American institutional cuisine. Possibly the unhealthiest, worst on the planet.

  66. @pat: I agree but let's look deeper. All three have "captive audiences" who cannot vote with their feet -- cannot order takeout -- cannot cook for themselves -- cannot LEAVE in umbrage because the food is bad. You don't get Caribbean cruises with awful food, because nobody would go if the food were not delicious and abundant. Who is going to COMPLAIN in the hospital? most hospital stays are 3 days at most. By the time you'd register a complaint, you've been released. Prison? hahahahaha. Schools? they might listen to parents, but not to kids who actually have to eat Michelle Obama's disgusting vegan slop. All these places have budgets and make their profits off of cutting corners. They have utterly lost the art of making simple basic foods from scratch. Today, it is a rare facility that has a real working kitchen -- it's just "microwave and reheat". BTW: this has affected many national fast food chains. Watch when they make your food at McDonalds -- they are no longer cooking it on a grill, but microwaving previously cooked burgers and chicken nuggets -- LEFTOVERS -- and that's why the taste is drastically inferior to what you remember from childhood.

  67. Imagine how most nursing home and assisted living residents feel having to eat that garbage day after boring day! It really is deplorable; particularly when nutritious, tasty food is so important for the elderly!

  68. We all make assumptions about why hospital food is so unappealing. What is the explanation from the hospital administration?

  69. Hippocrates, the Classical Greek physician often considered the “Father of Medicine,” proclaimed “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” (Interestingly, he also said that “It is far more important to know what person the disease has than what disease the person has.”) I’ve been a physician for over 25 years. My medical school nutrition training was as Dr. David Eisenberg described: “mostly biochemistry rather than “practical” advice about diet.” I’ve been a patient quite a few times, too. And my hospital food experiences have run the gamut from the unpalatable to gourmet. It’s been through my personal experiences of illness—which led me to explore health practices beyond that of my medical training—that I came to appreciate the truth of Hippocrates’s teachings. And my clinical practice benefited, as well. Nowadays in my work with patients, food is a primary medicine. So too, lifestyle, community and relationships, and purpose. (I think Hippocrates would have approved.) It’s heartening to see that the veracity of this ancient wisdom, now supported by modern science, is finding a foothold in the hospital setting. When medical education catches up, and physicians in training are not only taught “real life” nutrition, but offered a learning environment that supports a healthy lifestyle—e.g. good food, ample sleep and work-life balance, we will hopefully begin to witness a sea change in the role that food plays in health care.

  70. Horrible food at hospitals is just one reason why I, and I suspect others, distrust the health care system. For way too long, it was pretty much a given that a place where doctors and administrators drive Mercedes served food worse than doled out to inmates at the local jail. Now, the local hospital has its own in-house catering service--you can order, among other things, prime rib and salmon encrusted with a secret blend of herbs and spices, with employees gathered for staff meetings among targeted customers. That's too far the other direction (and the food still isn't very good). That hospitals can't seem to figure out how to feed folks doesn't bode well. What else can't they do?

  71. @August West: gee, I'd love to know what hospiotal is serving prime rib and salmon in secret sauce! I have literally never encountered this, and I live near two huge teaching hospitals -- one internationally known -- and all kinds of rehabs, nursing, homes, AL homes and dementia care. It is rare to even get fish, and when you do...it's ALWAYS tilapia and served lukewarm with no seasoning, sauce, breading or flavor.

  72. There is little evidence that sodium restriction does any good for most people, and very low sodium intake can cause harm. Vegan ideology rears its head again. There is no good evidence for restriction of naturally fatty foods, such as good quality meat, fish, and eggs. These foods are nutrient dense, have nourished humans since forever, and hey, people in a hospital just might need _more_ nutrition as they are trying to rebuild/repair/heal from an injury or disease.

  73. @The Pooch: you are correct, you (and I) are up against the "health nazis" -- who adhere with religious-like devotion to every failed diet fad of the last 50 years (and all of them at once)... 1. low fat 2. low calorie (yes, even for frail seniors who are THIN) 3. low or no sugar 4. low or no salt 5. no seasoning (food should be as bland as possible) And add to that, the new fads of 6. high fiber 7. no dairy 8. vegan or vegetarian 9. kale, kale, kale, kale and more kale

  74. @The Pooch You were wrong on Jane Brody's article and you are wrong on Richard Schiffman's "Food in Hospitals" article. There is plenty of evidence that Vegans/Vegetarians are healthier, on average, than meat/salt/sweets eaters. My 95 yo mother is a vegetarian. The best diet is the Mediterranean diet: fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, etc.

  75. @Mae T Bois The Mediterranean diet is neither vegan nor vegetarian. It's not even low fat. "Plenty of evidence" in this case consists of observational studies based on self-reported food surveys. Like your comment, the researchers conducting these surveys lump "meat" and "sweets" together, as if you can't tell the difference between a grass-fed steak and a candy bar.

  76. Only the high end hospital suites with concierge will get these gourmet meals. They will continue to shove mushy vegetables, canned fruit, meat broths and jello down the gullets of everyone else.

  77. @Elle: absolutely yes. They generally have a captive audience -- sick, frail, elderly -- it's not like you can vote with your feet. My favorite "worst ever" commonly served item: the "fruit plate" that consists of runny low-fat cottage cheese swimming in juice from canned cocktail fruit salad. I see this literally everywhere, even at the peak of summer when it would be easy to obtain fresh fruit.

  78. Reading through the comments I am struck by the lack of appreciation people seem to have about how difficult it is to make these changes. In order to serve healthy tasty food, hospitals need to hire chefs and cooks and kitchen workers who can cook restaurant quality food while meeting the dietary restrictions many patients have been given by doctors and nutritionists (low sodium, renal diets, liquid diets). In restaurants, what often makes food “good” is ample servings of butter and salt. Most chefs and cooks with talent do not go for jobs in hospital kitchens. The stigma of working in industrial kitchens (hospital, school) needs to be removed and talent need to be recruited with better pay. I imagine it is difficult as well to always serve food as soon as is prepared. The servers in the hospital must deliver food to several floors. These are not easy things to fix, but I applaud Northwell for their continuing efforts.

  79. I worked for many years as a data base consultant to many of the US top hospitals. Years ago, but nothing has changed. The "Nutrition Department" at all of them was given a per meal budget requirement. A very low requirement cost. The goal was just to be able to say that they had fed the patients. There was no concern on the administration's part for patient nutrition. Just a budget goal. As low as possible (jello anyone?). I am sure its the same today.

  80. I had brain surgery at Mount Sinai West in NYC. Stayed on the concierge floor. The food was delicious and well worth the extra cost.

  81. I'm proud to say that nationally (and internationally) renowned St Jude Children's Research Hospital, here in Memphis TN, serves excellent food, both for the patients and in the hospital cafeteria. They grow many of their own vegetables right there on the campus, and their executive chef, Rick Farmer, produces restaurant quality food. In fact, before working for St. Jude, he had his own restaurant, Jarretts, which was excellent.

  82. While recuperating in the hospital from bypass surgery, I had zero appetite, so made myself eat a little at every meal. The meals I remember were large in quantity, but low in quality. I lost 25 lbs in one week.

  83. I had a hip resurfaced at Bumrungrad Hospital in Bangkok two years ago. I spent 10 days recovering at the hospital, and the food was amazing. Every morning I was presented with a menu to pick out the next days meals; choices included: two Western selections, two Thai, two Middle Eastern and two vegetarian...for every meal. All of the meals were restaurant quality. When I talked the doctor into allowing me two Cokes a day, the bread disappeared from my meals. When the nurses started buying me two diet Cokes a day from the 7-Eleven, the bread reappeared. I lost five pounds in 12 days and never felt hungry. It can be done.

  84. I am a physician. My hospital serves life-threatening food. The "cardiac diet" is pure simple carbs and sugar with a little animal fat thrown in for good measure. It is a cardiac diet only in its propensity to cause an adverse cardac event. Our vending machines sell only sugar. There is no effort to change depite multiple attempts by myself and others to nudge the system toward a slightly more healthy approach. We are a part of a very large not for profit hospital chain and the system hasn't attempted to change either. Maybe it is better from the hospital perspective to cause disease?

  85. One other observation: David Eisenberg is a leader and we will see more medical schools coming on board with nutritional teaching, but contrary to the writer's final comment about doctors and treatment and food, I doubt you can find more than a small percentage of docs who don't agree that hospital food is abysmal. It's the bean counters, administrators, and boards who keep their finger on the budget and force the most unhealthy diets in the nation other than perhaps those served at our fast food facilities. Boards could change this, but mostly don't function in hospitals.

  86. As a patient, you may not be able to change the institution - but you can change what *you* eat with just a bit of polite effort. I've had 2 surgeries for joint replacements, and both times I had excellent food. Here's how to do it: 1. Make a list of the foods you want to eat (for me, a no-sugar, high fat, modest protein and complex carbs diet), and what you won't. No casseroles, food with junk fillers, white bread, low fat anything. 2. Call the hospital at least 2 weeks in advance and ask for the head dietician. Explain to him or her the way you eat. They will be happy to help if they can! Send your list by email, and ask for a call back if there are any problems. I don't require anything fancy, just plain real food, like a piece of baked chicken or fish instead of pieces glopped in sugary sauce. Real butter, real sour cream, real cream for my coffee, etc. I've never had a single request refused. 3. Ask if, like most hospitals today, there's a patient fridge available. If so, make some goodies for yourself (like date, prune and nut chocolate truffles, which taste great but can also help you "go"} - and equally important, make a big batch for the floor staff! I also bring them several dozen of my low sugar, whole wheat chocolate chip cookies, which usually disappear the first day, and which makes them feel as special as they are. Hospital staff want to help if they can. Be proactive in helping to manage your recovery; the rewards are great. And very tasty.

  87. My sister is in her second Assisted Living facility in Richmond,Va. She hated the food in the first one and hates the food served in her current one and tells me that most of the residents do too. She said most of the food is steamed and smells awful. She rarely goes to the dining room now, which is frowned upon by the staff. Since she only has a microwave and small refrigerator in her suite, she mostly drink Boost and eats peanuts! She occasionally will eat in the DR if she likes the soup they are serving that day.She is paying around $8000 a month for very little. Elderly people can be very fussy about food but good nutrition is vital. Surely it could be made more palatable and aromatic!