Hospital Food: Making the Best of It

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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).

my-hospital-meal
The juice came with the meal, the V8 was requested, and the Soy milk was brought from home.

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:

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!

ninewells-hospital-menu
Sample menu from Ninewells Hospital in Scotland. As you can see, there are many vegetarian options!

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.

big-breakfast-in-the-hospital
A near perfect breakfast ruined by the fact that those Rice Krispies actually contain animal-derived Vitamin D.

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!

Breakfast

  • 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).

Lunch

  • Broth or soup.
  • Bread or buns (usually served with margarine).
  • Hummus.

Dinner

  • Pasta with tomato sauce.
  • Potatoes (usually mashed).
  • Rice.
  • Well-cooked veg (nearly always carrots).

Snacks

  • 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.

Beverages

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.

breakfast-in-the-hospital
It may not look like much, but this meal is quite nutrient-rich (thanks mostly to the V8).

Closing Thoughts

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!

Question: Do you have any food tips?
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4 thoughts on “Hospital Food: Making the Best of It

  1. During my last stay in hospital, once I was (finally!) given the go ahead to eat real food, my notes stated everything had to be cut into pieces as I was in a coma for a fortnight and lost so much muscle tone and couldnt use utensils properly. I thought I’d be sneaky and order a hamburger for my husband to eat one day, except it came deconstructed and cut into tiny pieces :-).

    Thank you for your blog, so much useful information & for my revision surgery coming up I will be so much more aware thanks to you.

  2. I will say this, with my colectomy they didn’t know how to handle a dairy allergy at all. I was often given stuff I couldn’t eat and we had to fight, fight, AND FIGHT for them to stop giving me stuff I was allergic to! Ridiculous, right? Surprisingly though months after my colectomy I stopped having allergic reactions to milk. I’m still baffled but very happy that’s off my shoulders.

    I would strongly encourage anyone who has time to prepare to bring safe foods that are easy to digest if you have a food allergy or just a special diet for whatever reason. Baby food is my #1 choice as it’s easy to carry around and digest :)

    • That’s nuts! I think there’s often a disconnect between the hospital staff (nurses) and the kitchen (often a third-party) – several times my “vegan” mean came with chicken or something like that.

      And baby food is a good choice, although some may not find it as filling as they’d like.

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