Thoughts on Hospital Food and Health

Pat Garner

A few weeks ago, I had appendicitis and needed to have my appendix removed. I was in the hospital for 3 nights. The nurses and other healthcare providers were wonderful. My rant is about the food and the sinful waste I experienced.

For the first day I was on a liquid diet. Breakfast was clear liquid which consisted of broth, decaf coffee, Jello and some sort of sugary shaved ice. I drank the broth and the rest went away. I was upgraded to just liquid for lunch and dinner. Again, the fare was similar with juices, milk, purified soup, Jello and ice cream. I ate the soup and my husband ate the ice cream. The rest went away. I asked one of the hospital workers what happens with the food no one eats. I was told it’s tossed. Unopened milk or juice can’t be saved for a food bank? It was shocking and sinful the see the waste.

The next day I was allowed solid food and I was able to select my meal from a menu the hospital provided. I ordered a chicken salad sandwich with nothing else so nothing would be wasted. Unfortunately, I was only able to eat half the sandwich and the rest was tossed.

I was researching wasted hospital food and I found an article from 2015 that sited the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), that over 170,000 tons of hospital food is sent to our landfills. Nearly 40% of all of our food goes from farm to landfill.

There’s an argument that food banks don’t want potentially contaminated food from ‘sick’ people.. I get that, but how can unopened cartons of milk or juice be contaminated? There needs to be some way to help with the waste while adding to the nutritional value of the food provided. With as much money as hospitals charge for a stay, one would think they could figure out the food thing.

People who are in the hospital are either sick or recovering from surgery or an illness. Wouldn’t you think good nutrition would support healing? Wouldn’t it be ideal if you could order every meal so the waste is minimized? While my stay gave me the option to order from “room service” for every meal, I wasn’t aware of the option until day 2 of my stay. This was my only way to control waste. I didn’t need milk, Jello, or fruit juices. Except to increase fluid intake,  I don’t understand why the food service would provide sugary orange juice and coffee. People are sick, scared, and probably not in the best frame of mind to make good food choices. One would imagine there are registered dietitians on hand to help with food planning. These meals are 95% simple carbohydrates, maybe 5% protein and maybe 5% fat. This is a far cry from a nutritionally dense properly prepared meal.

If I were to bet on why the food is the way it is I would say it’s about cost and ignorance about refined  sugars.  But what’s the true cost of waste and patient wellness?

My suggestion is this if you are hospitalized and have the ability: Be an empowered patient and take your care into your own hands to the extent that you can.. If you have a loved one who can bring you food you would eat, then have them do so, unless your food is super restricted. A good quality bone broth should fit any dietary restriction. (My favorite bone broth is from I use it to make soup for my Mom. Ask me how I do it.)

That’s my rant to end out 2019. If you’ve had similar hospital food experiences either negative or positive, I’d love to hear about it in the comment section below.


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