The most exciting time of the day when you’re in hospital is meal times. That or the free TV you get first thing in the morning. Either way, what you eat while you’re in hospital has a big impact on the way you recover and get better. Except hospital food isn’t always the best, and varies depending on where you live and what hospital you’re in. I’ve got a fair few hospital miles, having been admitted as an inpatient to 6 different ones at various points, so I’ve started to notice the trends.
A typical day in the life of NHS food tends to be:
Breakfast: toast, cereals, porridge, occasional piece of fruit, tea or coffee. You can pretty much ask for what you want because breakfast comes on a trolley which they plug in as they go round. So the toast is usually closer to warm bread, but it’s not too bad.
Tea break: usually at 11- warm drinks and biscuits.
Lunch: lunch and dinner get brought to you on a tray. This tends to vary depending on hospital, but usually it’s something like jacket potato, quiche, omelette all with salad or beans, or in some of the other hospitals you get things like shepherds pie, lasagane or other tray bakes/one pot things like curry and rice. There’s always a pudding option too, like sponge and custard (standard NHS staple), eclair, yogurt, tinned fruit or the good old NHS ice cream which never, ever melts (it’s some weird wizardry!).
Tea break: around 3-4pm. This time there’s usually cake as well as biscuits.
Dinner: curry/chilli and rice, tray bakes, occasionally chicken, pies… this meal tends to be stodgy and usually covered in gravy, another NHS staple. There are ‘themed’ meals too, so Fridays is always fish & chips, roast dinner on Sundays, curry tends to be on Mondays. Plus pudding, the same ones at lunch usually.
Snack/drink before bed: plus biscuits, usually about 9pm.
NHS food is ‘alright’. It’s edible and I’ve only had one meal in one hospital which was disgusting (we basically got given stock under the name of soup) , but it’s very much ‘we’re fattening you up so that you can get better’. Which is fine if you’re a frail old lady, but not so much if you’re not. However, because everything you eat is charted, it’s sometimes a lot more complicated to not eat bits of it than to just eat it! If you make friends with the caterers you can usually get a few extras- biscuits AND cake, for example, or there’s always lots of ice cream floating around so you can get extra quite often 😉
Yesterday I was given a jacket potato at lunch and for dinner cheese and potato pie with, wait for it, boiled potatoes, mashed potatoes and some veg. So I essentially had 4 portions of potatoes yesterday- that’s a lot! You get a choice, but it depends on how they order it. Some hospitals ask you for everything menu wise first thing in the morning, which means you can think about whether or not you want 4 lots of potatoes in one day. Others ask you about an hour before your meal and, even more backwards, some ask you to choose what you want for the following day. Which makes no sense, because if you move ward or go home, which happens a lot, you never eat what you order because you’re usually eating what the person before you ordered! The more temporary the ward, the less choice you get, the portions get smaller and you don’t get any salad or veg with it sometimes. So short stay wards you might get a bit of choice but not much, but wards which they’ve had to open up and staff fast because they’ve run out of beds in general in the hospital don’t tend to have very good meals because the kitchen has also run out of food so they’re trying to cobble together anything that they can pass off as a meal.
It gets more complicated if you’re on a specific diet. Irritatingly, the NHS seems more geared up to deal with cultural diets rather than medical diets. If you follow a specific religion or are vegan, there are food options available. However, I’ve been in hospital a few times following a diabetic diet, approved by my dietician, and they can’t accommodate it. Which is how I ended up with so much potato yesterday because it was the closest to the diet I could choose. Basically I think they rely on diabetics to work their insulin out around it, but I have no idea what T2 or people like me eat, where it’s diet controlled.
The best food tends to come from cottage hospitals, because they’re smaller so they buy the food in and heat it up on site rather than cook it. Which sounds like it should be worse, but it depends on who the contract is with. On one hospital stay they got their food in from a farm shop and it was the best meal I’ve ever had in hospital!
There are definitely worse things to eat when you’re in hospital but I definitely wouldn’t say no to more vegetables and slightly less potato. I’ll leave you with a photo of a typical NHS meal!