Hospital Food Horrors

I’ve been lucky enough to only have spent time in hospital when my three babies were born, so thankfully my experience of hospital food is limited.  However, I had learned enough from my stays for the boys’ births in 2008 and 2010 that before I went in to have my third baby in June this year I was dreading the menu almost as much as my c-section.

I had memories of dinner choices which included “Savoury Mince and potatoes OR Cottage Pie” (where’s the choice there?), with mountains of white sliced pan and watery and rubbery at the same time custard present on every day’s menu.

Healthy people don’t spend time in hospital. Sick people do. Sick people need nourishment. I’m no dietitian, I’ve no qualifications in nutrition, but based on the food that I was served I cannot see how people could remain well by eating it, let alone rebuild themselves following illness or surgery.

After the birth of my first baby I had a blood transfusion. I was exhausted, my iron levels were low, I was breastfeeding a very hungry baby and I was ravenous. Despite my hunger I couldn’t finish my meals. My husband would try to coax me to eat them, until he saw what was being presented to me. That prompted him to start smuggling food in to me, strictly against the rules.  Mam got involved and brought contraband homemade chicken and vegetable soup in a big flask, brown soda bread with cheddar cheese.  Real food, nothing fancy but very nourishing. I inhaled it.

It’s no secret that I love food, but I don’t consider myself a food snob. And if I am, that’s not what’s at issue here. This is much more basic, it’s about balance.

I like to see a balanced plate. Not all beige, not all potatoes, I need some colour on my plate. Vegetables or salad. I can’t abide flavourless or overcooked food, it’s ruined, wasted. That’s exactly what was presented to me in hospital.  Meat was overcooked and dried up making it impossible to chew. Fruit and vegetables were severely lacking, as were wholegrains. White sliced pan was omnipresent. Desserts were offered every day, warm and gloopy as a rule.

My issue isn’t with the fact that the dishes were simple, they need to cater to all palates. It’s the lack of fresh fruit and vegetables, the preponderance of processed food and sugar, the unhealthiness of it all.

I appreciate that our health service is in a mess and has other priorities, but if something as basic as the food served to patients who are in their care cannot be of a standard to keep them healthy, what hope is there?

My Hospital Food Diary

My hospital food days went something like this: (since I’d just had a c-section and had a newborn in my care a blogpost wasn’t the first thing on my mind, so please forgive any inaccuracies in this account which is purely from memory)

Breakfast arrives just before 7, (even when you’ve settled your baby at 6.45am after a night of screaming.) There’s no choice offered: white toast, butter, marmalade, tea, cornflakes.  I brought my own Weetabix, although someone told me later that you can ask for it.


Lunch is no later than 12, the main meal of the day, chosen the night before if I recall, or possibly early that morning. The choices are generally “meat and two veg” or stews. I made my choices asking myself the question “What can they least mess up?”, so I went for the meat and veg options a lot.

These some of the lunch offerings:

Roast Beef Dinner- check out that meat
Close up of the meat in the roast beef dinner, and those crimped carrots
Roast chicken dinner with yogurt for dessert- check out the bendy carrots. This was one of the best meals I had in the five days. One overcooked limp vegetable.

The evening meal is early, around 5, and is a light meal- a sandwich for example made on white bread. Then you’ve 10 food free hours unless you’ve stashed biscuits in your locker (I had, and bottles of water, and cereal bars and fruit). Your baby could feed five times in these ten hours.

Rubbery reheated, sort of burnt on top quiche with side salad and white bread
Cheese sandwich on white bread with vegetable soup that was mostly potato
Chicken Salad, with yesterday’s mash disguised as potato salad.
Fruit! Hurray Fruit!  Fruit Salad gone a bit brown, with a blob of (unrequested/undisclosed) longlife cream
Can you guess what this is? Comment below. Prize is that you don’t have to eat it.

22 thoughts on “Hospital Food Horrors

  1. What is described as “food” in our hospitals for those who are recovering from ops, have ongoing illnesses, or new Mums is a complete joke, as you and I, and many others have experienced, Sinead. How the HSE are “over budget” to the tune of over 200 million Euro, is mind-boggling. I survived on biscuits, water, fruit, & whatever my Hubs brought in, yes, stashed in the locker. When I was in after having our Babs.. would you believe, 20 years ago, the situation was exactly the same. The only thing actually cooked in hospitals then was breakfast. Now, it is “kuked” offsite in a warehouse somewhere, brought in, and reheated. Great post, Sinead. I wrote one after my three days sojourn in the Summer, was glad to get out of there,and home to real food.

    1. I know, it’s shocking isn’t it. I asked in Wexford as I’d understood the food was all cooked offsite and just reheated there (hence all the cling film) but I was told that it is cooked there now.

      1. It certainly is shocking, S. Nothing is cooked, in the real sense of the word, in hospitals any more. It is re-heated, that’s my opinion. I do not believe that any of the meals are cooked on-site, and fresh, it is not. It can’t be. About 20 minutes before the mid-day dinner is trundled up to the wards, patients are* treated* to a wafting smell of food. Vegetables are dried out, I had mushrooms on a dinner plate that looked like they were a week old, and the bark of a tree would be more appealing! Meats are tough, and fish is usually watery, and have the appeal of nothing on this earth to make a patient want to eat it. The HSE have a lot of questions to answer.

  2. Oh my god, that is horrific! If you think thats bad, I know someone who had a heart transplant a few months ago and for her first meal they offered her sausages for dinner! I mean I’m not a doctor but if you have just had a heart transplant surely fat laden sausages aren’t a good call. To be fair, when she said she wanted something healthier they brought her fish and vegetables, but that was after asking! She said her doctors and nurses were superb, but obvious the food in the hospitals is an issue.

  3. Great post! I’m glad to see someone highlighting this. I’ve spent far too long in Irish hospitals and the food is just really bad. I had a c-section when my baby was born and found it really bad that you got no food after the evening snack when you could easily be up most of the night feeding the baby. I was prepared and had food bought in to me. I also spent three months in a hospital and almost wasted away due to the illness but also due to the bad quality of the food. Many days I just couldn’t eat what they offered even though I was hungry and tried to eat.

  4. It really does seem fairly basic doesn’t it? That good nourishing food is an important part of recovery? When I had my son I barely ate hospital food and hubs had to smuggle food to me too. I know when my mum was in hospital with terminal cancer the meals were horrendous – at a time when she most needed nourishment and strength she was eating the worst meals of her life.

  5. I had my daughter 3 days before Christmas by emergency section during the big snow of 2010. The food was so bad that I don’t think I ate anything other then my cornflakes in the morning and bread and jam for the rest of the day. My christmas dinner was so bad that the dinner lady apologised to me as she brought it in, I don’t actually remember what was served (I am vegetarian so not the usual turkey and ham for me) and it was just sandwiches for tea as the kitchen staff all went home early.

    July just gone, after a failed VBAC attempt. I was facing another 5 days in hospital but this time I was prepared. I had a cooler box and ice packs in my room for yogurts, smoothies, fruit, cereal bars, snack packs of crackers and cheese that hubby could replenish daily from the fridge at home.

    But I have to say I was fed much better the second time around, the meals this time were edible and the nurses came round at 9 every evening to offer tea and toast.

    1. Hi Pearl, we’ve similar aged kiddies, Cathal is Sept 2010 and Laoise June this year. I thought that things had improved a bit since last time but it’s still very, very far from acceptable.

  6. That roast beef is the most depressing plate of food ever. Ugh. And you can’t put cold mashed potato on a plate and pretend it’s potato salad.
    My guess for the last is some sort of apple cake/pudding with custard. Or bread-and-butter pudding with custard. Though the whitish stuff is confusing me.

    My only brush with hospital food has been a very quick 24 hours in Texas. I had to have “semi-liquids only” because I was in labour (and that was a big concession) and got some sort of creamy chicken soup (not remotely homemade) and vanilla “pudding” which is like blancmange or something. After the baby was born I sent my husband out for food and he brought me back the best BigMac in the history of the world. The hospital were fine with bringing it in.

    They must have given me something for breakfast the next morning, but I have no memory of what it was. Toast, I suppose.

  7. Last time we were visiting someone at hospital, we ended up having to go to McDonalds three times in one evening to pick up Big Macs for different visitors! I’ve never had to stay in hospital long enough to know the food myself but it doesn’t seem too nice :-/

    As for the picture, I was going to guess bread and butter pudding too but maybe it’s a cheesy omelette…?

  8. Oh those photos are depressing! And depressingly similar to the meals I had when my kids were born. Though my husband did bring my cappuccinos and pastries most days, and also smuggled me in a picnic with smoked salmon and pate and champagne one night! It was pre-recession 🙂

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