Monday, August 6, 2012

Hospital Food

I remember as a child hearing that airplane and hospital food were terrible. I assumed that the adults were referring to the taste of the food. Yeah, the food doesn't taste so good but now I realize that the real issue is the nutritional value of these meals.

In recent years airlines have started to offer less food and even charge for it. Of course these changes are motivated primarily by cutting costs, but nonetheless there are now healthier selections such as fruit and nuts or hummus and veggies. Passengers now need to either pay for food or bring their own. This is great in my opinion. Maybe more people will begin to bring their own food on board or eat a healthy meal beforehand. While I feel airlines' food programs have taken a step in the right direction, it seems hospitals have a long way to go.

One would think that a hospital would be serving healthy food to the people in their care. This isn't the case at all. My fiancée has spent a lot of time in hospitals recently giving me time to inspect the meals brought to him. On Friday my fiancée was served microwaved veggies and dark chicken meat drowned in a mystery sauce, a sugary drink loaded with artificial coloring and preservatives and a wheat roll. My first thought was that at least the bread appeared healthy. I inspected the label and was horrified to see about 40 ingredients on the list with High Fructose Corn syrup in the top five. Really? Why? There is no need to put HFCS in anything, especially bread.

Hospitals employ nutritionists and dietitians so why aren't meals prepared better and the choices healthier? Unfortunately money is probably why and there isn't always attention to detail in large instituitions. A dietician or nutritionist may ask for a meal to include specific food groups but perhaps they aren't the ones doing the ordering or they don't follow up to see what is actually served to patients. I'm not sure where the problem is but there is a problem. Schools face similar issues but in recent years some have made huge improvements in the food choices offered to students. It seems that the parents stepping in and taking charge are the ones initiating change. How can these improvements be made in hospitals too? Usually patients aren't there long enough for family members to step in and try to initiate changes. What is the solution?

I am not sure what the answer is but perhaps hospitals could hire people to oversee ingredients going into foods, how they are prepared and how they arrive to the patient. The price of meals may increase, but in my opinion, you can't put a price on what goes into the body, especially an ailing patients' body. I'm not saying that hospitals need to buy organic produce, although that would be amazing, but perhaps they could start by taking small steps. First let's cut out anything with food coloring, added salt, added preservatives or HFCS.  Get rid of microwaves! There are ovens to heat towels and blankets, why not the chicken and carrots? I haven't seen a food tray with fresh fruit at the hospital very often. How about a banana or an apple instead of a syrupy soggy fruit mix? I realize that things are easier said than done, but a hospital is supposed to be a place of healing. Food can help heal and in my opinion the state of hospital food right now is doing much more harm than good.

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