Forget schools. Forget companies. If there’s one place that should really see a connection between the meals they serve and health care costs, you’d think it would be hospitals. A recent trip to visit my grandmother in the hospital led me to wonder if any kind of cafeteria reform is hopeless.
My grandmother has high blood pressure and diabetes and was in the hospital for a stroke caused by both. Over the three days I spent with her in the hospital, not once did I see her served a fresh fruit or vegetable. Every bit of produce she was served came from a can. There was little protein and none of it was lean or high-quality – powdered eggs with breakfast, flecks of ham in some macaroni and cheese for lunch, and perhaps meat in a spaghetti sauce or a mayonnaise-based chicken or tuna salad sandwich for dinner. More than half of each tray was made up of simple starches: white bread, white pasta, or even a big sugary frosted pre-packaged muffin with 4 grams of trans fats(!). There were no whole grains except for the days when oatmeal was served for breakfast.
The hospital would serve her this and then the nurses that came in would shake their heads and wonder why they weren’t able to get better control of her blood sugar. Nobody in the hospital seemed to be drawing a line between cause and effect. Besides her immediate treatment, I was also frustrated by the fact the hospital was wasting a teaching opportunity to educate patients on how to eat to control their diabetes. If the hospital is going to serve Grandma white bread and sugary cookies and pudding, why shouldn’t she think that’s OK to eat when she gets home?
I don’t know what’s driving the cafeteria menus and what could prompt change. Is it a question of education and nutritionists need to reach out to the cafeteria staffs to educate them on what to serve? Or do they know but just can’t afford it? Is it a question of insurance companies and Medicare having really low reimbursement rates for hospital meals?
Photo by EricGjerde