Hospitals Need a Menu Makeover

CURESummer 2013
Volume 12
Issue 2

Q: Is it just me, or is anyone else at all concerned about the quality of food served in hospitals?

A: Most of us assume that hospitals are healthy places where we receive care for our illnesses. People with cancer, in particular, spend a lot of time as inpatients and outpatients in hospitals.

Although hospitals have to deal with all sorts of problems, one subject that is receiving increased attention is the quality of food served to patients, families, guests and staff. When it comes to desirable standards for food, many hospitals come up short. All too often, it seems as though hospitals serve food with too much fat and salt, and without offering healthy dining choices.

Research is showing that such concerns are not without foundation. There are calls emerging for hospitals, and health professionals in general, to do something about the limited nutritional value of their food. Even medical meetings are receiving increased scrutiny in medical journal comments.

People with cancer are at a definite disadvantage when it comes to food that lacks nutrients, while also piling on the fat and salt. As noted by the American Cancer Society in its recent guidelines, cancer treatments create their own particular problems for patients and require special attention. The good news is that there are calls for hospitals to improve the limited nutritional value of the food being served. And many of these organizations are starting to pay attention. I recall a major donor to a large cancer center bearing his name saying that one of his expectations was that its staff would pay special attention to the food needs of patients. I was impressed that he thought of such a detail for the institution he funded and those it cared for.

So if you think you are alone in your concerns about hospital food, you aren’t. Experts are taking hospitals to task for the quality and variety of the food they serve, and progress is being made. And don’t forget: As a cancer patient with your special needs, the hospital dietitian may just be one of your best friends.

—Len Lichtenfeld, MD, is deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society. Send questions to