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zora

Hospital Food--not as bad as I thought...

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Last month I had to go to the hospital for the first time in my life--for what I thought would just be some heavy-duty antibiotics to treat endocarditis (tip: If a doctor tells you out of the blue that you have a heart murmur, and you have strange swellings in your extremities, don't wait six more weeks while the doc figures it out). It ended up being more complicated, and I had to stay incarcerated for a whole week, transferring hospitals mid-week. And then a few days later, I had to go _back_ to the ER--but used a different hospital this time. I'm now relatively OK but have to have surgery sometime down the road.

The point is: I had to eat a _lot_ of substandard food. Luckily, I had a couple of very good friends who brought me dinner pretty regularly, but still. It was bleak. And I'll have to be back in the hospital for a while, post-surgery. Bad food is just one more reason why being in the hospital is actually _bad_ for your health.

I'm pasting my impressions from my blog below, but am curious to know: what are others' hospital food experiences? Tips and tricks for surviving? Most horrifying moment? Most surprisingly good? Does quality of food really correlate with quality of medical care (my impression)?

Here's what I wrote last week:

Let me first admit: I have a soft spot for airplane food. The little individual compartments and containers are very compelling to me (but maybe that's just my OCD talking). I have never had a completely inedible meal on an airplane, and once, in Delta biz class, I actually said "Yum!" while I was eating.

So, that said, I didn't find the hospital food that bad--at first. I'd been actively fearing it because several years ago I went to a restaurant-supply convention here in NYC, where I stood mesmerized and morbidly fascinated in front of a robotic food-dispensing machine for use in "institutions such as prisons and hospitals" (suggested the demo video). A huge stainless-steel box contained Nutrient Gloop A, and it was pumped through springy tubes, then squirted in precisely measured portions onto trays running by on a conveyor belt. I was scared straight, as they say.

But fortunately there was no Nutrient Gloop on my tray in Forest Hills. Most food items were recognizable. The separately heated entree dish and coffee mug provided the familiar reference point of dining in the sky. The trouble with the airplane-food analogy is that I've never been on a plane for more than three meals. My first hospital stay, eight days total, would be the equivalent of jetting to Australia and back four times in a row. In the hospital, you get a special jiggly bed that ensures you won't die of deep-vein thrombosis, but the stewardesses aren't the least bit cute. And, at least at LIJ in Forest Hills, you don't even get a choice of beef or pasta.

And what your menu says rarely correlates with what's on your tray. Best example: a promised chicken cacciatore took the form of tuna casserole with tricolor rotini--very jarring if you're expecting chix with mushrooms. Some items required a little imagination to match them up with their labels. At first I thought "Chinese-style roast chicken" was another case of a failed menu writing. Then I realized the little scallion slices and the brown glaze signified "Chinese-style."

And then some things were just straight-out weird: one day I got some beef stew with mandarin oranges. Yes, the ones you get in the syrup in the cans. This was a Jewish hospital--was this perhaps some institutional interpretation of Passover brisket? That's the only real-life foodstuff I could peg this concoction to.

Additionally, there was a disturbing lack of concern for nutrition. Partially hydrogenated spread was the norm. I, a heart patient, got coffee for breakfast every morning. And dessert portions were always physically larger than entree portions. Which I guess was supposed to be a perk, but only seemed to reinforce the miserableness of being in the hospital, as the big bricks of gooey cake practically screamed, "You poor hopeless sickie! Here's a treat!"

After a few days of this, I was living that dumb joke: The food is terrible, and the portions are so small! At every meal, I'd been diligently cleaning as much of my plate as I could before I was gripped with utter despair (I drew the line at the margarine), but on the morning of the third day, I was weak and dizzy with hunger. Fortunately, Tamara started the daily dinner delivery that night, but by then I'd already been carted down to the special heart-monitoring floor, as I gasped, "It's just low blood sugar...need REAL food badly..."

Getting transferred to LIJ in Manhasset was a step up, because there at least I got a little menu to choose entrees from each day. Again, descriptions rarely gibed with reality, and chicken broth, a plastic mug of tasteless murk, accompanied every meal. One morning I just started crying right off the bat; I was crushed by the task of discerning actual oatmeal bits amid the starchy pap. I felt like Oliver Twist, but without the pluck or, of course, the desire for more. But the green beans weren't so mercilessly boiled, the dessert portions were a bit more moderate, and fresh fruit made an occasional appearance. One night I got a thimbleful of real butter, but the bread to put it on was like mattress stuffing. I rubbed it on the ubiquitous green beans instead.

After all that, Mt. Sinai was like Babbo, Le Bernardin and Jean-Georges all rolled together. The nightly bulletin applied a bit of hyperbole to the next day's choices--though to be fair, a "seasonal" green salad in December would be iceberg lettuce and carrot shreds. Otherwise, I felt like I had a new nutritional lease on life, with my choice of butter or margarine (duh), salad and fruit options galore, and dinner entrees so edible that I fortunately can't remember any of them.

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YIKES! I'm so glad that you're better now, and hope for a speedy and complete recovery... despite the hospital trying to kill you with "food". What a nightmare for a foodie! Aesthetics and taste aside, I wonder at their substitutions of tuna for chicken (and mandarin oranges?!). I would assume that they would maybe be more careful with food allergies and religious/diet preferences?

In a recent trip to the hospital a few months ago, their menu choices for vegetarians were rather grim, but at least there was a halfway decent salad and fresh fruit selection. Their veggie entrees consisted of plain pasta with butter substitute. They didn't allow soda or candies because of the sugar and caffeine in them, but you could drink all of the leaded coffee that you wanted. Go figure.

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Oy, Zora and Mochihead,

so glad you're better, both of you!

Zora, my husband had pericarditis, which was terrible but he recovered completely! he was in the whitechapel hospital in london's east end (where we lived). the food was so bizarre that i wrote a whole column on it. i can look it up and see if its in the archives or not. in fact, the food was very school dinners sort of thing: lots of boiled white things, and when the dessert lady came around with her tubs of jelly (jello), stodgey heavy steamed puddings, ice cream (or what passes for it) and custard (ditto, what passes for it), the patients were besides themselves with glee. i thought it inedible but then i didn't go to school in the UK.

I've recently spent a lot of time in hospitals in the usa as i was sick a few years ago, then my mother has been in and out of hospital with serious problems. when i see what they serve sick people i want to cry. esp the sodium content. and the glop factor.

but my most outstanding experience in hospital food was when i had blood poisoning in Provence and was carted off to the Pasteur Institute in Nice, France. I was very ill and in hospital for about two weeks. the food was divinely provencal, totally nicoise, and though i was really too sick to eat, all of my guests were enjoying meals chez moi, especially as the portions were HUGE! half a loaf of baguette with each meal seemed to be the portion size. bowls of cafe au lait for breakfast. when it was time for a meal no one had to announce it as the smell of garlic wafted down the halls. not everything was wonderful, but there was always at least one dish that made the meal worth its while.

one day i watched as my room mate--an elderly lady--tucked into her lunch. she ate with such gusto it was a joy to watch. oh, she muttered this and that about growing old and having to put up with the troubles that accompany it (she was in for something to do with her knee) but she was so full of life, especially when mealtime rolled around.

this was not a fancy expensive hospital for foreigners, this was the local national health hospital, in fact rather downtrodden, and i was the only american they seemed to have ever had there. they called me: l'americaine. and when i left all the doctors and nurses lined up to shake hands with me and say au revoir! they were wonderful and saved my life.

of course when i was in a california hospital with the same prob they also were wonderful and saved my life. but the food wasn't as good.

heres to health, and our being appreciative of it,

marlena

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I was in one of our local hospitals for several days a year ago. The hospital is a new one opened only a little over a year ago. The food has definitely improved since my last visit.

The dietician came and talked to the patients and I had to compliment her on the quality of food and the only complaint I had was the overcooked broccoli.

They had a very tasty whole grain bread, properly cooked vegetables most of the time, and tasty main dishes.

A menu was given with two choices of entrees, sides and desserts. There were always vegetarian choices because this hospital is operated by Seventh Day Adventists who are usually vegetarians.

Things are looking up!

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I am currently sampleing the food at Sonoma Valley Hospital. Fruit plate and cottage cheese have been a staple after seeing the fake bacon. that even a dog would reject. Talked the Doc into red wine with dinner 4oz, GF smuggled in a bottle so dinner was barely tolerable. Overcooked marinated chicken breast, healthy choice mac &cheese, wierd cheesecake. I'll continue to sample as the week progresses, luckilly I can have food brought in.

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That does bring up an interesting question. Why are hospitals investing in pets to bring to rooms to help keep people's spirits up when they could invest in a better food program.

I know that if I were given a good chunk of fresh baguette, my spirits would be lifted to healing levels. Ditto with even something so simple as a bottle of Tabasco sauce in my "welcome to the ward" packet would help to some extent.

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I have stayed in the hospital twice (having babies). My first baby was born at Bar Harbor Hospital on Mount Destert Island, Maine which is a very small place. The food wasn't bad, and new mothers got lobster dinners.

My second baby was born at Northwestern Memorial in Chicago via C-section. The food was awful! The first 24 hours, I was only allowed jello and the like, but when I could finally have real food my choices were a chef's salad or a cheeseburger! What? I just had surgery, and while I wanted something more substantial than jello, I did not crave a cheeseburger. Fortunately, there was an Au Bon Pain and a Corner Bakery near the hospital, so my husband would go out and bring me nice soups and things. I never ate any of the food, and had fights with the nutritionists every day when they would arrive to berate me for not eating their carefully selected menus.

It's strange. The cafeteria at Northwestern has good food. It's a popular lunch spot with many people. It was even featured on a local restaurant show as a good bargain place for lunch. So why can't they bring a bedridden person a decent bowl of soup?

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In my experience hospitals do ok with lunch and dinner. But they fail miserably at breakfast. Especially eggs.

In the early 90's I had surgery that left me with a gastral-nasal tube blocking out all food for a week. As soon as I was cleared for semi-solid food I phoned Jack McDavid at Jack's Fire House in Philadelphia. He smuggled in an plate of shrimp and grits - with the shrimp and veggies nicely diced. I probably should have gotten hospital/doctor clearance, but my morale was in worse shape than my digestive system, and the shrimp and grits did the trick.

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Three years ago, for the senior cardiogist at Tel Aviv's Ichilov hospital, who recognized me as the wine and restaurant critic for HaAretz newspaper, told me that he had good and bad news for me. The good news is that I probably had not had a heart incident and the bad news was that I was going to be his guest for three days in the hospital so that he could do a complete workup on me. When I asked why that was bad news, he smiled and said "wait until you taste our food".

Let's just put it this way - breakfast was luke warm cottage cheese, olives that had come from a tin, and an egg so hard boiled that it would have been more appropriate for tennis than for human consumption; lunch was three days of unrecognizeable mush - sometimes white, sometimes off-yellow; and dinner was of things so lacking in personality, charm or any other saving graces save for its dark brown color. To add insult to injury, whatever it was that they served as coffee was indistinguishable in color, aroma and flavor from whatever it was that they served as tea.

Two saving graces in all of this - Camembert sandwiches on fine French flutes and ham and cheese sandwiches on thick-crusted country-styhle Italian bread smuggled in to me; fine espresso brought to me (albeit in paper containers) from my favorite cafe and the fact that in the end it was all nothing more than a muscle spasm and nothing at all to do with my heart.

On checking out I did ask my cardiologist where he dined during working hours. He laughed and said "only in absolute emergencies at the hospital"


Edited by Daniel Rogov (log)

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Lunch, Philly cheese steak,looked good, totally devoid of any flavor. Fruit cup and Cottage cheese. Mostly pinneaple,some green melon, they must be running out of grapes as there was one. Cheap bland cottage cheese. Chocolete cake was the highlight. On to dinner. :unsure::hmmm:

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Whenever I have to eat hospital patient food it always seems way undersalted to me, which may account for it looking better than in tastes. Way underspiced too. And not enough of it.

I had a family member who was in long-term and was told to gain weight by supplementing the hospital food with Ensure. Yuck, and all that sugar! We went broke bringing in restaurant meals. The occasional bottle of wine, too.

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ONE grape?! That's tragic. Hang in there. Can some eGulleteers near you bring in some roast duck dinner or something?

A couple of friends of mine have said they didn't mind hospital food so much, but were dismayed at how little of it there was, and asked to be put on double portions. I just couldn't bring myself to do it. I had a feeling that if I looked at _two_ blobs of scrambled-eggs-from-a-powder or two scoops of army-green spinach, I wouldn't be able to eat any of it at all.

And Marlena, you've changed my travel plans forever. I'll have to start spending more time in France, just in case I get sick again...

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Lunch, Philly cheese steak,looked good, totally devoid of any flavor. Fruit cup and Cottage cheese. Mostly pinneaple,some green melon, they must be running out of grapes as there was one. Cheap bland cottage cheese. Chocolete cake was the highlight. On to dinner. :unsure:  :hmmm:

My guess is your doctor put you on a flavor-free diet.

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Y'know, because _flavor_ can be so upsetting to the system. Sigh.

On another note, it's also a bad sign when you start looking at branded, packaged food as a bonus--oh boy, Kozyshack pudding! At least I know that's sold on the open market in regular retail markets, and not created just for institutions. Sort of the same way as McDonald's becomes more appealing in airports, when it's one of the most reliable options...

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Mimi Sheraton has a chapter on hospital food and other institutional food in Eating My Words, her memoir.

MelissaH

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Dinner, New York Strip ordered Rare, I think they put it on at lunch and took it off for dinner service, inedible, my dog would send it back. Healthy choice Mac & Cheese, what can one say? Chocolate cake again is the winner if you don't count the Kenwood red the GF brought to supplement the 4-oz of red allowed. Some one better bring take out tomorrow.

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My father had quintuple heart bypass surgery this past spring. The first meal of solid food he was served was broccoli/cheese/rice hot dish topped with Fritos (!). Rice pudding. A squishy whit bread roll with some pat of something that resembled a pat of yellow playdough. I was horrified. But, they did only offer skim milk!

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In hospital for abdominal surgery in San Francisco, my first meal, the night of surgery was fried shrimp and tater tots. After abdominal surgery. I was so stoned on percocet I ate it... complications ensued... argh...

Here in Seattle, Swedish hospital changed to a restaurant style ordering system while I was incarcerated... er... after back surgery. After a few days of jello, it was delightful to have a made to order grilled cheese sandwich and chocolate shake at midnight. Yep, I awoke from my drug induced stupor, picked up the phone and asked for my favorite comfort food, and it arrived within half an hour! I've been in restaurants with worse service and food. It was lovely, propped up at a slight angle (couldn't actually sit up for several more days), eating my grilled cheese, hitting the Happy Button on my morphene drip.. quite a fine time. :wink:


Edited by lala (log)

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Unfortunately, I've lived months in hospital. This past year I was in for one nice stretch. I had a lovely Staph infection that was septic, so the hallucinations were very odd. Once I was alert, I wrote a poem to the dietician and added my list of food to it.

I always say that I am on an extremely restricted diet. I have a terribly frightening looking chronic disease, so I get away with it.

Here's my list, ONLY fresh fruit, steamed or raw veggies, broth(more on this later), cheese of any kind except American, oatmeal, sunflower seeds, all nuts other than peanut, fish, hard boiled eggs and yogurt. I also tell them that the only canned thing that I am allowed to eat is tinned fish. I use the broth and nuts for salad dressings and to flavor the steamed items. I get soy sauce and Crystal hot sauce smuggled in. And decent tea. I stayed at Centra State in Freehold, New Jersey this past February. You should have seen my meals! Huge platters of fresh fruit and oatmeal and cottage cheese, every morning! I couldn't eat it all if I tried! It was the middle of the winter, but I had ripe melon, citrus and grapes every day. I had bowls of oranges and apples at my bedside, everyone came to visit me at snack time. Lunches were also similarly picnic like, but were usually broccoli and carrots with sliced cheese and a tiny tin of salmon, and pretty good. Dinner was the difficult thing, the dietician just couldn't keep from wanting to send me hot foods, and you know, cooked can mean steamed for an hour in a hospital. I resorted to begging for hard boiled eggs and thawed frozen vegetables every night. I just ate the whites and made salad from the broccoli and such. Plus, my sister brought me lovely dark chocolates. I am a candy eater, I prefer to get my calories that way in hospital, if possible. I did lose a few pounds, and considering the medications that I was on, it was a miracle, as I have gained 30 pounds since coming home. When I left hospital I sent the kitchen flowers and a final poem as a thank you for putting up with my need for fresh fruits and such, and the kitchen sent ME a thank you note for being so easy to feed! It was the best hospital stay I ever had, and only partially because of the Dilauded drip. :wub:

edited by me to add: winesonoma, feel better! Lucky you, you can have wine!


Edited by Rebecca263 (log)

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My wife was hospitalized for essentially malnutrition. One evening she was given a double order of potato soup, a baked potato and bread with an iceberg salad.

We've kept the little ticket that came on the tray, since it was just so damn ridiculous. I've seen plenty of crappy hospital food, but I've also (albeit rarely) come across food that was at least edible, if not tasty.

The margarine thing kills me too. She was there to try to boost her calorie count. Give her real butter and real milk/half and half for tea and coffee. Too much sugar in the non-dairy creamer.

Julia Child once said that the one thing a hospital can't screw up is a baked potato. But I've seen it done...

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You all might get a chuckle from this review in the San Diego Reader. One of their reviewers actually did a column on hospital meals.

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New shipment must have come in. Apples, Strawberries, Oranges, Grapes. Fruit salad looking up. Tortaleini a la panna to be delivered tonight.

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New shipment must have come in. Apples, Strawberries, Oranges, Grapes. Fruit salad looking up. Tortaleini a la panna to be delivered tonight.

Are your fruits actually tasting like fruits? Or is it just a textural thing?

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Good fruit, fresh and tasty. Rest looks kinda bland. May get to try a new place soon, not home though.

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this topic is pretty funny... I was hospitalized at toronto sick children hospital for four months 3 years ago... the food wasn't seasoned and we were only allowed one pack of salt per tray however I though breakfast was the best meal since you had the choice of toast, peanutbutter, five types of cereals, milk, real fruit juice and yogurt and these fruity fresh cheese packs called minigo (fromage frais type) so it wasn't really bad as long as you avoided eggs...

lunch was also ok as long as you ordered PB and J but hot dinners... let's not go there especially the reconstituted unseasoned mashed potatoes served with cardboard dry turkey rounds

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