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

David Hammond, a corporate communications consultant and food journalist living in Oak Park, Illinois, is a founder and moderator of LTHForum.com, the 8,500 member Chicago-based culinary chat site. David...

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