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:
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.