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Rethinking Hospital Cuisine

Hot & Cool Food Trends

The words “hospital food” used to automatically cause you to wrinkle up your nose or stick out your tongue and say “yuck.”

Today, not so much. These days it may be more appropriate to call it “hospital cuisine.”

Most hospitals have revamped their food offerings in recent times, offering more vegetarian and healthier fare—and now some are going even further, bringing on trained chefs, expanding kitchen hours, and operating more like hotel room service, serving dishes cooked to order.

As reported by Dawn Fallik, writing for WSJ online, many healthcare facilities are going to great lengths to cater to a wide range of medical needs. Diabetic, gastric bypass, cardiac, cancer and other types of patients all have different cravings and nutritional needs, the hospitals say.

Chefs are whipping up Nutella milkshakes, made from the sweet hazelnut spread, for patients needing extra calories. Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy treatments may dine on chicken with a side dish of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos to add an extra flavor kick to chemo-numbed palettes. Patients not quite ready for solid food may be offered such delicacies as a pureed croissant French toast custard (photo, above).

Healthcare facilities are taking lessons from today’s progressive restaurants, doing things like maintaining on-property herb gardens as Rex Healthcare in Raleigh, N.C., is doing. Patients there can watch chefs cut mint and tarragon to season the day’s menu selections.

Hospitals and healthcare facilities are using more locally-sourced ingredients as well.

Kaiser Permanente has guidelines for sustainable food sourcing that includes local, antibiotic/hormone-free meats and dairy, and serving fresh fruit for desert. The hospital has farmer's markets at 25 of its medical facilities. Dominican Hospital, Santa Cruz, Calif., buys produce from a local organic farm and has a vegetable and flower garden on-site. Good Shepherd Medical Center of Hermiston, Ore., has eliminated fat fryers, and serves organic produce and rBGH-free milk, and is eliminating food additives. Instead of beef, the hospital serves naturally lean bison. St. Luke’s Hospital, of Duluth, Minn., serves wild salmon, and has a locally-grown organic salad bar.

Among the benefits of serving higher quality food is waste reduction, says Veronica McLymont, director of food and nutrition services at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, New York. “Patients now order what they want to eat, when they are ready to eat,” she says. So less food is left on the trays to be thrown out.

Upgrading the cuisine can do a lot to enhance a hospital’s reputation. A 2009 study published in the journal Nutrition & Dietetics found that the more personalized the food service, the more satisfied the patients.

Photo: Daniella Zalcman for The Wall Street Journal

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