I was recently hospitalized at the University of Chicago, when I had surgery. This means that I had to eat hospital food for a few days, which was not all that bad.
Hospital food has changed quite a bit over the years. My very fist “real” job was when I was in high school and worked part time in a hospital kitchen. It was a great job for a high school girl. The hospital was just a short walk through the woods from the high school. We started our shift by sitting down and having dinner, which was a really nice perk. Back then, that particular hospital still made their meals from scratch. The cooks would produce stainless steel containers filled with a variety of different entrees.
When it was time to make up the dinner trays, we would each get a station along a conveyor belt. The tray would have a menu with the menu selections checked off. As the tray came past us, we would add our designated food items. I recall dishing out ladles of soups into stainless steel bowls and dishes of dessert and coffee or tea.
The completed trays were placed in a large metal food cart. When the cart was complete, it would be wheeled up to the hospital floor. Mealtime came at the same time for everyone, whether they were sleeping, entertaining visitors or off getting medical tests. In other words, the meal was served when it was served, not at the convenience of the patient.
Now hospitals have taken a more individualized approach to nutrition and to preparing meals for patients. Although I doubt very much that there are many hospitals that actually prepare food from scratch anymore, they are customizing the meals for the patient.
Upon admittance to the hospital, I was handed a paper menu. I was instructed to decide what I wanted to order and call the order down to “Room Service”.
The hospital room service worked efficiently. The menu stated that the food would be delivered within an hour from being ordered, and I found that to be true.
The menu was not extensive. Breakfast included eggs, pancakes, waffles, muffins and breads. Sandwiches included a variety of burgers, chicken sandwiches, grilled cheese and hot dogs.Dinner entrees included chicken, chef’s salad, spaghetti, lasagna, macaroni and cheese, stir fry and tacos. There were dessert and side orders.
For breakfast I would order pancakes or waffles. What I found interesting was the size of the portions. The hospital portions were nothing like what you would get a a pancake house, with a stack of pancakes. The waffle portion was two quarters of a waffle. The pancakes were two four inch pancakes. When I ordered off the menu, the order taker would encourage me to add fruit or side dishes. It would seem like I was ordering a lot of food, but when it arrived it did not appear to be a big tray of food because the portion sizes were small.
All of the potions were much smaller than what you would be served in a restaurant. The reason that I found that so interesting is that they show what a potion size is really supposed to be. The hospital portions were measured and weighed. It really demonstrated to me how American portion sizes have gotten to be about twice what they should be, which is a cause of the obesity epidemic in America.
Of the dinner selections, I tried a chicken stir fry, chef’s salad and baked chicken breast. The meals were all tastier than I expected, but not terrific. In fact, most of the meals were bland overall, which was not a surprise. The meat on the chefs salad had a salty taste that I did not enjoy.
I was intrigued to see tacos on the menu, but didn’t feel up to eating something potentially spicy. I am a little curious about what hospital tacos would taste like, but not curious enough to go back.
The food was always neatly prepared, on clean trays. While the food was not like going to a restaurant, or even a pancake house, it tasted good and was nourishing.
While I critiqued the food as bland, it is probably bland food that is best tolerated by most patients. Spicy food may not set well with many sick
Overall, I like the room service concept of meal service at the hospital very much. It was a good diversion to look at the menu and be involved in the decision making process of meal selection. It was also nice to have some control over when the meal would be served.