Why Do People Make Jokes About Hospital Food?

If you were to randomly ask 20 people on the street about hospital food, I am willing to bet 19 out of 20 would tell you it was awful.

Why is this?  Shouldn’t the food we serve to sick people be healthy and delicious?  Appetizing?  Comforting?  Food that will help them on their healing journey?  I know this isn’t a fine dining restaurant, but really – shouldn’t you expect a higher standard than “nutritionally adequate?”

I decided to try the food at our General campus.  (In my other life I am a restaurant critic; no stranger to sampling food.)  I am happy to report that the food is not bad – in fact, I would venture to say that it is as good as it can be, given the raw materials we give staff to work with (more on that later.)  Our food service staff is very patient focused, and do the best job they can creating and serving good food to the folk in our beds.

So what IS wrong with hospital food?  Here (and this is not a scientific study, this is my own opinion) are the top 6 reasons hospital food gets a bad rap:

  1. Frozen/canned/prepackaged:   if you’re looking for fresh fruit and vegetables, you aren’t going to find much.  Because of cost pressures, hospitals rely heavily on frozen, canned and pre-packaged foods skipping the labour involved in prep.  Soup is made from soup base.  ‘Nuff said.
  2. Not enough choice:  in many hospitals, your food is a “take it or leave it” proposition. It doesn’t matter if your beef stroganoff is the world’s best – if you’re serving it to someone who hates beef, that is not a winning patient experience.
  3. Plastic beverage cups:  Okay, I realize that this might be a highly personal objection, but I hate those little plastic cups for tea or coffee!  I can assure you that they are clean as a whistle (I have personally worked in the dish room and helped with the cleaning) but for some reason they give me the creeps.
  4. 1950s-style menu offerings:  Meatloaf, bbq chicken leg, beef stroganoff – honestly, I am fully expecting June Cleaver to yell out the front door for the Beev to come home for dinner.  I don’t know any families that eat like that today.  (But, if you do — hey, it should be an option, getting back to the choice issue.)
  5. Diversity: Spaghetti and sweet and sour chicken do not a diverse menu make.  Scarborough is one of the most multi-cultural communities in the world, and we could (and should) do a better job of providing food that is comfortable and familiar to our patients. Family members should not have to come trundling in every night with dinner for grandma.
  6. Fresh, local and seasonal: These are not words that currently apply to hospital food.  They should.

But the real problem is that we’ve forgotten, all of us, that what we put into our bodies is an important component of health. That there is a straight line connection between the earth, the environment, the farm, our plates and our health. We should know and care where our food comes from.

And so, I am pleased to announce that we have embarked on a year-long project to improve what’s served to our patients here at The Scarborough Hospital, thanks in part to a grant from the GreenBelt Fund. Can we make a positive difference, despite the budget challenges, existing systems and all the other reasons we continue to do what we do? I sure hope so. I know one thing for sure – if anyone can pull this off, it’s the staff in the kitchen at The Scarborough Hospital. They are committed, hardworking and caring people, and they’ve agreed to go on this crazy journey with us. Wish us luck!

To learn more about the exciting work going on at The Scarborough Hospital please visithttp://transformingtsh.com/

If you would like to receive The Scarborough Hospital’s special monthly update on their innovative patient food improvement project, ReFRESHing our Menu, please email Julie Dowdie at jdowdie (at) tsh.to. 

- Anne Marie Males, Vice President of Patient Experience at The Scarborough Hospital