Hospital food is notoriously gross. But chefs who are interested in serving patients while maintaining a flavor-focused approach to foodservice are working on changing that stereotype. Some, such as the chefs at the Virtua Hospital in Voorhees, New Jersey, have transformed their foodservice so profoundly that the cafeteria is now a popular spot for locals to eat, even if they have no business with the hospital.


It makes sense for hospitals to serve excellent food. Food is medicine; food is comfort. Patients and their families need both in order to recover well. And yet in spite of food’s importance to health and well-being, 30% to 50% of patients experience hospital malnutrition. By making healthy food that delivers patients’ specific dietary needs in forms and flavors that they actually want to consume, foodservice professionals can have a profound impact on hospital performance and patient outcomes.


By helping healthcare customers switch from processed to fresh foods and provide more appealing and relevant options to patients, foodservice manufacturers can contribute to this transformation at scale.


Pivot from Processed to Fresh Foods

Historically, hospital food has been highly processed, featuring shelf stable options that can be stored for long periods of time and used on demand. For example, many patients on liquid-only diets received canned nutritional shakes (e.g., Ensure, Carnation Breakfast) or Jell-o. While these foods technically delivered patients’ nutritional needs, they are also ultra-processed and high in corn syrup and other undesirable ingredients.


In an effort to deliver higher quality, better tasting foods to patients on liquid diets, Stanford Health Care pivoted to making in-house smoothies and soups. This approach enables foodservice staff to center fresh produce and unprocessed or minimally processed ingredients while also tailoring recipes to patients’ individual health needs and taste preferences.


Manufacturers can support hospital foodservice staff by helping them develop menus that leverage fresh foods and delivering minimally processed (but labor saving) ingredients that can be used across multiple dishes.


Provide More Appealing and Relevant Options

One way to encourage patients to eat healthy foods is giving them choices. Hospitals often achieve this by developing several diet-specific menus (e.g., liquid only, low carbohydrate, or low protein) so that patients can select their preference from a number of options that meet their needs.


At the community level, hospitals can also provide choice by tailoring menu options to the cultural makeup and ingredient availability that is relevant to their community. For example, the Alaska Native Medical Center serves traditional Alaska Native dishes alongside modern foods. While patients can order a salad or burger, they can also get seal soup, smoked fish, or dishes featuring traditional Alaskan fruits and vegetables.


While seal oil and beach asparagus are highly specific offerings, manufacturers can replicate this approach with their healthcare foodservice customers by helping them match dishes and ingredients to their client base.


The Bottom Line

Developing delicious, comforting foods that meet thousands of patients’ and families’ specific dietary needs sounds daunting. But with the support of manufacturers and suppliers, hospital foodservice staff are able to do just that. By developing several diet-specific menus that feature whole, minimally processed ingredients and emphasizing choice and cultural relevance on those menus, healthcare foodservice professionals can elevate their craft and promote healing at the same time.

Foodservice IP is a professional services firm aimed at delivering ideas for managers to guide informed business decisions. To learn more about FSIP’s Management Consulting Practice,click here.

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