Hospital food has long been stereotyped as something to avoid with its supposed unpleasant taste, appearance and texture. But is it really that bad?
Last week, Canadian Malnutrition Week tackled the negative perception of hospital food with its 2018 theme of What’s on the Menu?
“In the context of hospitals, we generally see malnourishment resulting from patients not wanting to eat the food that’s presented to them due to decreased appetite, and yet patients often have increased energy needs from stress or procedures,” says Andrea Connell, manager, business development & food services. “Malnourished patients can go home in a worse [nutritional] state than when they came in.”
Food Services production coordinator Michelle Higgins adds, “being malnourished while in hospital negatively impacts patients’ recovery. There is a lot of research around why people do not eat in hospitals – being focused on what else is going on like testing, not being supported during meal times, not able to open packages – but eating what you want and when you want really improves their nutrition while they’re here.”
The ‘what you want, when you want it’ concept Higgins is referring to is the IWK’s Dial for Dining program and it has flipped a switch in patient perception of hospital food at the IWK. Dial for Dining offers 15 different menus and 24 hour delivery service not only to patients, but to their families and visitors too (and even staff). Now entering its 11th year of operation, Dial for Dining has radically improved patient experience and perception of hospital food with 90 per cent of IWK patients reporting they’re happy with their food.
“We can tell a lot of our food is well liked and people enjoy choosing what they want to eat,” says Connell. “Our food waste that comes back on plates is one of the lowest in the province, around five per cent (compared to industry benchmark of 30 per cent).”
Food Services supervisor Sara Aucoin meets with patients and families regularly to audit how food is being received at the IWK and she’s used to getting great feedback. “The positive feedback I get back through patients is they feel it’s a luxury to be able to eat with their child. Or have the husband come in with the wife, or partners eating with partners after birth. They can be together as a family and order the same thing in the same place instead of eating separately.
Food plays a key role in patients’ care and experience at the IWK and Food Services is continually taking steps to ensure they’re operating with a patient and family centred care mindset.
“If we can make their hospital stay a comfort zone, and a little more like home, that’s a good thing,” concludes Aucoin.