Food with nutritious

When you think of hospital food, what comes to mind — mystery meat, watery bouillon, limp peas and carrots, wobbly green Jell-O? It’s no secret that the meals served to patients haven’t been a hit in terms of taste. There’s even a photo blog that invites people to submit snapshots of hospital meals from all over the world, and while some look pretty tasty, most are sad, unidentifiable variations on stereotypical hospital fare.

And while you’d think that meals designed for people who are sick should follow the latest nutritional guidelines, that’s often been far from the case. When the advocacy group Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and ADinfinitum Inc. surveyed 40 hospitals or hospital systems across the United States in 2005, they found that fewer than a third had either a daily salad bar or a low-fat vegetarian entrée, and many so-called healthy items offered were actually very high in fat. Studies have also found that hospital food may have lower levels of nutrients like vitamin C, perhaps because the food is heated to a high temperature in order to retain warmth when delivered to patient rooms some time later.

But lately, the image of bland, unhealthy hospital meals has been shifting. The Culinary Institute of America in upstate New York offers a first-of-its-kind elective course on cooking for patients in health care facilities, with students taking field trips to hospitals and learning firsthand what’s involved in improving the taste and quality of institutional fare. At Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, executive chef Pnina Peled works with a nutritionist to prepare great-tasting, healthy meals for children and adult cancer patients, who often have depleted appetites due to chemotherapy. Sloan-Kettering was also involved in last month’s 2011 Big Apple Health Care Culinary Challenge, which pitted chefs from several NYC-area hospitals against each other to see who could whip up the most delicious dishes.

Healthier Food for America’s Veterans

Even the Department of Veterans Affairs is taking note, with all 153 VA medical centers and 132 community living centers making healthier changes to their menus. Based on several different government nutrition guidelines, the new menu plan, known as the VHA Healthy Diet, was adopted by every VA facility in 2010. The plan calls for meals averaging 2,000 to 2,400 calories per day, with zero or minimal trans fats or hydrogenated fats, whole grains, and locally sourced fruits and vegetables. At Bay Pines VA Healthcare System, a VA facility in Florida, the cooks have also created healthy variations on favorite foods to adapt them to the new guidelines. So how’s the taste? Barbara Harrington, MS, RD, chief of nutrition and food services at Bay Pines, says that the most recent Patient Satisfaction Score was 4.4 on a 5-point scale — “Our highest ever! I’m very proud of that.” She does admit, though, that some patients “do miss their bacon and sausage at breakfast.”