By Melanie Gonzales
Clinical Nutrition and Patient Dining Manager, Overlake Hospital Medical Center
Hospital food has a bad reputation. Often occupying the same culinary real estate and corny punchlines as airplane food, hospital dining conjures images of jiggly Jello cups, tasteless turkey sandwiches and heartburn-inducing vending machine jaunts.
But those days may be thankfully in the past as hospitals across the nation are moving towards fresh organic foods that are not only palatable, but actually delicious.
At Overlake Hospital, we have taken it a step further by creating 12 different menus with a broad range of ethnic, organic, seasonal and fresh items. Feel like Elliot Bay salmon filet with an apple-cider reduction, skewers with mango chutney or Tandoori chicken? With the new Seasons Dining program, we’ve got you covered.
The decision to go seasonal, organic and gourmet was not all in good taste. There may be medical benefits too. Many physicians have commented that the benefits of this type of program can include faster recovery times and improved nutritional intake. Because patients order food based on their individual preferences, they tend to eat better, recover faster and ultimately go home faster. Whether you’re in the hospital or at home, nutrients in food are an essential part of the healing process and worth paying attention to.
For example, a low-sodium diet is beneficial for managing multiple medical conditions including high blood pressure as well as congestive heart failure and other conditions. When following a low sodium diet, foods are seasoned with fresh herbs and spices to add flavor without adding additional salt. This diet avoids processed and packaged foods such as regular canned soups, processed meats like bacon and ham, chips, frozen meals and certain higher sodium cheeses.
Our menus are based on the different diets recommended for each patient by their physician. More than 70 percent of patients select from the menu for “Regular” diets that focus on healthy, fresh meals, and the widest range of choices like made-to-order omelets to grilled salmon sandwiches to flat iron steak salad. Other menus address specific diet needs such as heart-healthy, low-sodium and low-fiber options.
Rather than rely on a single menu for everyone, we’ve developed diet-specific menus so that patients receive only those food choices they can order. The program doesn’t dictate each meal, but gives patients options about what to order. It’s important that patients learn to make choices and balance their diet, as they will have to do on their own once they leave the hospital.
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Patients also need important education about their specific diets and must learn how to make healthy food choices and sometimes alter their diets to improve their health. Room service attendants and nurses offer important diet education, using the menu as a tool to help evaluate and direct food selections and an eating schedule. Patients are encouraged to take menus home and use them as a guide to meal preparation and healthy eating after they leave the hospital. Each menu includes a diet description that outlines the desired food options and why they are recommended. Carbohydrate grams are listed on all menus to help diabetic patients balance meal choices throughout the day.
As Overlake moves into a new era of nutritious and appetizing dining, we encourage our patients to continually look at their own diet choices and seek fresh foods that nurture healthy bodies and minds. And while you’re at it, you can stop with the hospital food jokes.
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