Cafeteria Food That Would Give You A Heart Attack, If You Hadn’t Just Had A Bypass

By Becks


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

11 responses to “Cafeteria Food That Would Give You A Heart Attack, If You Hadn’t Just Had A Bypass

  1. From my experiences with hospital food here has been slightly different but still depressing. While the food offered was crap all around, diet restrictions were put on and made relative sense at least.

  2. I just spent a week in Shady Grove Adventist, so I can tell you the situation is slightly better there. Almost every meal comes with vegetables and fresh fruit is nearly always served. They do provide the option of white bread but they also serve whole wheat bread. The desserts weren’t *too* unhealthy, either.

    On the protein front, I was nearly always eating the vegetarian option and they didn’t do as well there as I thought an Adventist hospital should, but I did get fish too.

  3. Thank you! I had the same experience when I dad was in the hospital recovering from heart surgery. Terrible food and then someone came in to talk to he and mom about what to eat after they got home. I wondered then if anyone at that hospital talked to one another.

  4. My father spent several months in the hospital last year until he died, and while the food was pretty bad, there were lots of fresh items and there was one master menu with codes for low sodium and diabetic-menu items, which included many whole grains and lean meats.

  5. Payment for meals is bundled up into the payments that hospitals receive for a service, say, a heart surgery or a normal delivery. In theory, hospitals can spend as much or as little as they want on food. Given that they pocket whatever they don’t spend out of the bundled payment, I’m not surprised that they skimp on good-quality food.

    But that doesn’t mean that powdered eggs aren’t disgusting.

  6. It depends on the hospital, truly. I’ve been working in hospitals across the country for the last 5 years. One had a McDonalds (a very busy one), some had really disgusting cafeterias as you describe. But some actually had decent food – UCSD in San Diego, for example. Great food. For a hospital anyway.

  7. I just spent 75 days in New York Methodist, a very good hospital in Park Slope, NY. The meals were absolutely awful; they were on a weekly schedule, too, so every seven days I was having the same meal. It was exactly as you described: pudding, canned peaches, cafeteria meat, etc. Luckily, my girlfriend came to see me every day, and I was allowed to get food from outdoors–that area of Park Slope has a lot of decent food options, so even though my insurance was spending $2K a day on my hospital stay, we got $15 worth of food from take-out places instead.

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  10. Oh boy, you just hit a hot button. I recently spent 8 days in a local hospital. The patient care was excellent. The best part of my release? I didn’t have to eat any more ‘hospital food’. It was borderline toxic. The hospital had just built new kitchens … but the KEPT the old recipes! ICK!

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