Hospitals aren’t known for serving 5-star meals, but that doesn’t mean you have to suffer through them.
In this article, I’ll be going over hospital food options, as well as things you can do to help make your hospital dining experience a little better.
Choices (or Lack Thereof)
When I was in the hospital for my ostomy surgery and proctectomy I did have some time to plan.
I was quite fortunate to have been given options before my surgery (I was able to specify that I’d like plant-based foods), as well as having access to food brought from home.
But even then, I was put on a special, post-op diet that was already quite limiting to begin with. Remove some of the animal-based foods and I was left with very little.
Still, I managed to find ways to get through it and went home to recover without too much difficulty.
Unfortunately, not everyone’s as fortunate as I was and I receive emails from other patients who’ve said they weren’t given options and received no extra support while in the hospital.
This is unacceptable.
Ask for It
While many hospitals will give patients special diets to go along with the type of surgery they’ve just had, sometimes patients need other options for various reasons.
Some patients are lactose-intolerant, others may need a low-sodium diet, and others may want plant-based meals due to personal or religious beliefs.
Some hospitals are insightful enough not to give new ileostomy patients bulky vegetables, but some still do.
If you have a planned surgery, then I would suggest letting your surgeon, ostomy nurse, or other healthcare staff know that you’d like to request a special meal. After discussing it with them, you’ll likely be asked to contact your hospital’s catering staff to go over menu options.
I would suggest doing this about 2 weeks before your stay.
These alternative foods options can be in addition to the meal plans your hospital already has planned for you (i.e. low-fiber).
If your hospital has one available, I would also suggest that you ask to speak with a Registered Dietician. Not only can they help by giving you information about eating while in the hospital, but they should also be able to give you advice on eating during your recovery.
Chances are that you’ll be put on a “low-residue” diet, but you should still have some room for alternatives as I’ll show you further down.
Current Hospital Meal Options
Nearly all hospital websites will have a section on patient meals, although not all of them will get into specifics or show you what’s available on their menu (this is likely because menu options change often).
Here are some examples of random hospitals and their current policy/options regarding patient meal:
- Kingston General Hospital (Canada): Our Menu – Lunch and Dinner
- Mount Sinai Hospital (Canada, the hospital I had my ostomy surgery at): Patient Food Services
- North York General Hospital (Canada): Patient Meals
- Howard Country General Hospital (USA, Part of Johns Hopkins Hospital): Patient Meals and their menu
- Hackensack University Medical Center (USA): Our Menus and Specialized Diets (loads of menus)
- Portsmouth Hospitals (UK): Patient Meals (including a vegan menu)
I’ve had a chance to connect with other patients who’ve been kind enough to share their experiences with hospital food, as well as give me access to the menus available at their local hospital!
The French menus above have a few items on there that would be suitable for vegans and vegetarians, but I would personally be looking beyond that menu for items I can bring from home or request off the menu.
Making the Best of the Situation
Try to learn which foods are safe for your circumstance (post-surgery) and what alternatives are available.
An ostomy friend of mine once told me that if you ask for a Kosher menu, you’ll get more options that are veg-friendly. I’ve heard others say the same, so it must be true :)
Many hospitals will give patients a menu to select food preferences for the following day.
Once you’ve received this menu, go over the options and select the ones you feel would satisfy your hunger, give you some calories to work with, and offer some nutrients.
Don’t be shy to ask for extras! My hospital kitchen staff was very good at bringing me extra non-dairy milk and juice that I could keep by my bedside after meals were done.
If you have a friend or family member who’s able to bring in food for you, make sure they know what’s right for you at the time (nobody should be bringing you a raw kale salad after surgery!).
It may be more convenient to prepare a list for them before you head into the hospital.
Have a look at some of the foods in THIS article to see which are appropriate for ostomates post-surgery, then look for non-perishable foods that are convenient to keep by your hospital bed.
Sample Meal Plan
Here are some examples of meal ideas based on foods I’ve seen/I’ve eaten in hospitals. Mix and match with what’s available and you should have no trouble getting by.
Cool fact: Some hospitals (like the ones in Japan) will have tofu on the menu!
- Oatmeal/porridge or cereal
- Bananas, fruit cups, applesauce.
- Bread, bagel, or rolls (often served with peanut butter and jam without seeds).
- Melba toast (dry bread in a package).
- Broth or soup.
- Bread or buns (usually served with margarine).
- Pasta with tomato sauce.
- Potatoes (usually mashed).
- Well-cooked veg (nearly always carrots).
- Peanut butter or other smooth nut butters.
- Crackers, cookies, potato chips/crisps. (these can help thicken up your output after ileostomy surgery).
- Non-dairy pudding.
- Non-dairy yogurt.
- Non-dairy jello.
Many of these drinks can help to give some much-needed calories, as well as nutrients that you won’t get from drinking coffee, tea, or soft drinks. Some are served with each meal while others may only be served during breakfast.
These are often served with each meal, although some may only be served during breakfast.
- Vegetable juice (V8 is a hospital staple for me!).
- Fruit juice.
- Non-dairy milk like soy, almond, hemp, coconut, etc. (get the fortified type for added vitamins and minerals).
To make your food more palatable, it might also help to bring some travel condiments like ketchup packets, salt/pepper, or vinegar if you like.
I hope that this article gives you some idea of what to expect during your hospital stay.
We may not be served gourmet meals, but we shouldn’t have to suffer through meals that don’t work for us either.
Remember, sometimes you may need to request a special menu before heading into the hospital, so don’t be shy!