What Do You Think of Hospital Food?

Gottlieb Tries Serving Better Food for Better Patient Outcomes

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By David Hammond

Last week, I posted about a miserable meal my aunt was served in a Florida hospital.

Last Friday, I was invited by Gottlieb Memorial Hospital to sample “At Your Request/Room Service Dining.” The idea is that this menu enables patients to choose whatever they want to eat from a broad menu and then eat it whenever they feel like it.

To help me get into character, Gottlieb sent a van to pick us up, had me ride in a wheelchair on the way to the room, and had me put on a gown and get into bed. I ordered from the regular patient menu.

This was a very revealing experience: as soon as I got in the wheelchair, I started to feel helpless.

Giving a patient control over their food choices is one way to give back to them a sense of control over their lives, which seems psychologically beneficial. Patients who feel good and are optimistic about life seem to have a better chance of regaining their health.

It’s not the case that patients can eat anything at all. Raymond Walker, Director of Food Services at GMH, told me that his staff reviews patient records and makes sure that meals are coordinated with the plan of care.

But, the big question: How was the food?

The food at GMH was much, much better than I sampled at my aunt’s hospital bed.

We tried some broccoli, and it was very fresh tasting with good tooth; it didn’t taste frozen or dead.  It tasted like a fresh vegetable.

Fish is hard to prepare in any large institution: it’s usually over-cooked, dry and tasteless. The cod we had at GMH was perfectly done, still very moist at the center and with good flavor. This was a very critical menu item, and I think it demonstrates the value of preparing menu items when they’re ordered and not way in advance of serving. At GMH, food is prepared minutes before it’s served.

My wife, Carolyn, makes a mean macaroni and cheese, and she liked the GMH version quite well. I found it just a touch gummy.

The soup was meh, flat and canned-tasting, but big deal. The “At Your Request/Room Service Dining” program is a positive step in the right direction. GMH is making an effort to serve better food, and that effort deserves applause.

Specially for me, the hospital kitchen improvised a dish from the menu that Walker said they would NEVER serve to regular patients. More next week.

Now, it’s my understanding that to avoid standard hospital food, people frequently smuggle special chow into the rooms of their hospitalized friends and family.

Have you ever brought food into the hospital for a sick person, and if you have done that, are you at all concerned that this might compromise the patient’s plan of care?

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David Hammond from @OakPark.com/Dining/Blogs  

Posted: February 17th, 2011 5:09 PM

Adele Davis' "Let's Eat Right to Keep Fit" made a big impression on me when I was a kid. Nancy,I recognize there are limits to what food can do to keep us out of the hospital, but I'm in full agreement with you that good food is good medicine (though it usually tastes better).

Nancy Trock T-Renegade Fitness from Oak Park  

Posted: February 17th, 2011 4:14 PM

Wasn't it Socrates who rightly said, "Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food"? High quality food can help the healing process. High quality food can also keep us out of the hospital.

David Hammond from OakPark.com/Dining/Blogs  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 11:22 PM

Quality of health care is paramount, of course, but given the choice between hospitals with equivalent capabilities, I'd travel a little further, make a little more effort, to get in the hospital that served food that would make me happy while I was in that hospital's care. Peter, if that puts me in a small group then I feel sorry for the large group.


Posted: February 16th, 2011 10:59 PM

When you're health is on the line the first thing you choose is a hospital with a reputation for health care. If I'm in need of a bypass I'm not choosing my Hospital because of the beefsteak on Wednesdays. I think you'll find yourself in a small group.

David Hammond from OakPark.com/Dining/Blogs  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 10:56 PM

"People don't select hospitals because of the food" Really? Paul, given what seems your definition of "people," you cannot be referring to any group that would include me. If I needed hospitalization and had the choice, things being equal, I'd select a hospital that had a reputation for serving good food. No question.

Brian Crawford  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 8:07 PM

I have eaten hospital food nearly every work day for more than 20 years. I love it.

Tom Scharre  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 6:01 PM

Mr. Hammond: Given this nation's twin appetites for enormous portions & utter convenience, your article triggered a business idea...an all-you-can-eat buffet in a place that seats you in a wheelchair upon entry, wheels you back & forth to the feeding trough for refills and then deposits you at the exit. Call it "Meals on Wheels."

Jan from Forest Park  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 5:24 PM

Paul, I don't think the hospital was ignoring other patients in order to pick up Hammond. And yes, people choose hospitals based on drs and insurance and not food, but it is nice to know Gottlieb has taken a step in the right direction.

Paul Obis  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 4:24 PM

Gottlieb is now part of Loyola. Although I applaud their dietary excellence, it seems like a bad use of resources to send a van to pick up Mr Hammond, then put him in a hospital bed and feed him. There are people who are seriously sick and would benefit from being hospitalized. Why do something so frivilous? People don't select hospitals because of the food but because of where their doctor can admit them.


Posted: February 16th, 2011 2:45 PM

I was a patient at Rush (Chicago not OP) last Nov and was pleasantly surprised at how good the food was. Excellent in fact!

Christina Pippin from OakPark.com/Shopping//Blogs  

Posted: February 15th, 2011 6:05 PM

Got a little worried when I first saw you in that hospital bed! I thought the food did it to you. Good to know it was a pleasant dining experience - especially for patients.

David Hammond from OakPark.com/Dining/Blogs  

Posted: February 15th, 2011 6:02 PM

For the critically ill, it seems to me they should get to eat whatever they want, ML Eneberg, and though it may be a violation of hospital protocol, I'd bet many docs would agree.

ML Eneberg from Oak Park  

Posted: February 15th, 2011 3:39 PM

Really appreciated the article by David Hammond on hospital food! I am one of the guilty ones who smuggled a greasy cheeseburger into the hospital for my dad. It was the last few weeks of his life and I had no problem granting his craving! Looking forward to the description of the improvised dish!

Bill McClung from Oak Park  

Posted: February 15th, 2011 3:05 PM

I was recently an in-patient at MacNeal Hospital, Berwyn for a few days, and for breakfast was given boiled oatmeal. No to me, a Scot, that is porridge, one of our staple foods. Alas what I was served was like a plate of vomit!!! I was so disgusted that I took a picture of this...I wouldn't have fed it to a dog...or even to someone I didn't like. So be aware if you are ever an inmate of MacNeal's Hospital. They may have a captive audience - but one can refuse to eat...

David Hammond from OakPark.com/Dining/Blogs  

Posted: February 15th, 2011 2:56 PM

Some hospitals probably encourage friends and families to bring in favorite foods. And given the age or condition of patients, it seems like anything that could be done to make patients' lives more pleasant would be a good thing (excluding, of course, things like bourbon or cigars, which I'm assuming your grandmother probably wasn't into).

Sarah Corbin from Oak Park  

Posted: February 15th, 2011 2:38 PM

When my grandmother was ill at West Sub, we smuggled in Petersen's milk shakes. Certainly there is no guilt or concern when smuggling a milk shake in for your 80 plus year old grandmother.

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