Thursday, January 20, 2011

Hospital food: the good, the bad, and the cheesy

Wow - first of all, thanks for the fabulous, supportive comments on my previous post! It means so much to know you're out there rootin' for me.

So: hospital food. Is it really so bad?

Well, I've now had seven meals on which to base an opinion. Among the best:

A perfectly acceptable salade Niçoise with everything but the capers. (I'm not sure that tomato is authentic, but we'll let that slide.)

Very juicy baked chicken (though the gravy, which claimed to be "the best!", was not).

Chocolate pudding!

Tapioca pudding!

Lime Jell-O!

The overall theme, if there is one, is New England diner: comforting, under-seasoned dishes. Which makes perfect sense for a Boston hospital — when you're sick, you don't want challenging dishes; you want something homely and recognizable.

But when you're feeling pretty much okay, even after two full days of induction chemo (thanks to powerful anti-nausea drugs), it's hard not to lose your appetite when faced with:

A dry, congealed turkey pot pie, in which only the peas are salvageable:

Turkey dinner with sad cauliflower au gratin and more of that the best turkey gravy:

This morning's Cheesy Scrambled Eggs (American cheese, of course, two corners of the square still resplendently unmelted):

The golden glow on its pasteurized surface came courtesy of the much more natural, glorious, sunrise:

I know I'm coming across as a food snob here (well, that is my role). So I also need to say that I completely understand the scale of the undertaking.

The hospital has one central kitchen, from which meals are shipped to various buildings and reheated at serving time. It's much more cost-effective to use frozen or canned vegetables, and soft, over-cooked food is easier to digest (though of course it loses nutritional value along the way). And the cost for The Boy to have an in-room, three-course meal with me is around $8, which, let's face it, is amazingly cheap for Boston dining.

My awesome nurse has been helpful at pointing out things to straight-up avoid: the burger, and anything fish, are two of her tips.

But I'm now at the point where I can read an item on the menu — Kung Pao Pork, say, or Spaghetti with Meat Sauce — and have a pretty good idea of what I'm going to get.

Which is why The Boy is bringing me something from Anna's Taqueria tonight.

Oh, and in case you're wondering whether sick people are fed the same way everywhere, here's a lovely gallery of international examples of hospital food. Japan looks to be a winner here.

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Blogger Michael Buller said...

I love that you had lime Jell-o and that you posed it with a skyline view! We miss you around 20 Overland. Keep writing!

4:31 PM  
Blogger adele said...

That salade nicoise does look remarkably decent. The gravy, though - I'm starting to think that gravy is just a bad idea where institutional cooking is involved.

6:59 PM  
Blogger Saul Wisnia said...

Buller stole my comment -- damn!-- but I still wanted to say hi. Thank you for instilling my confidence in most hospital food. Perhaps you can do a future post comparing hospital and airline food (you still get real meals on trips to England, don't you?)

2:26 PM  
Anonymous Cindy McKeown said...

I love the warm glow that the cheesy scrambled eggs give to the adjacent sunrise ...My puzzlement about hospital food (and sorry if this gets a bit graphic) is why do hospitals often serve food with LITTLE TO NO FIBER CONTENT only to give you colace or some other medication aids to get ya movin?

5:27 PM  
Anonymous Bill said...

What is the difference between hospital gravy and gelatinous sludge? I don't know, and it appears neither does the person at the hospital who made the gravy. Seriously, I would think a great gravy would be one of the first, and important, steps in the journey to health.
Peace out, sister.

9:34 PM  
Blogger Alexandra said...

You have to love orange half-melted cheese! Hope you are feeling okay and doing well. I'm trying to team up with you and encourage Jeanie to join FB. She is overwhelmed to say the least. Enjoy the mexican!
Alex Caram

4:42 PM  
Anonymous Rosemary said...

Hi Carolyn:
You are too funny. Looking forward to having you back soon! Saul is right about hospital food vs. airline food...
Check out a few of these beautiful culinary images.....-

1:29 PM  
Anonymous map-of-the-poblematique said...

last photo is amazing!

4:35 PM  

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