Nourish is excited that innovator Stephanie Cook from the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region is featured in the Regina Leader Post talking changing the story around hospital food. Learn more about Stephanie's work by visiting her innovator page.
By PAMELA COWAN, REGINA LEADER-POST
Published on: May 30, 2017
Does hospital food get a bad rap?
Stephanie Cook, director of Nutrition and Food Services with the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region, thinks so.
“That negative image of hospital food is everywhere,” she said. “We see it in the media, we see it even among our own hospital staff. People think it’s going to be tasteless, pre-packaged and highly processed.”
It’s tough dispelling the preconceived notions, Cook said.
“It’s probably the most common ice breaker for almost any staff to enter a patient’s room and say, ‘Ew, how’s the food?’ ” Cook said. “It reinforces to patients that the food isn’t going to be good. Our goal was to change that story and start with our staff.”
A two-part student research project in RQHR’s Nutrition and Dietetic Practicum program involved staff at both of Regina’s hospitals to see if it was actually the food that was bad or just its reputation.
The first part of the study asked 57 staff at the Regina General Hospital about their perceptions of the food served to patients.
“Interestingly, it didn’t matter whether those people had experiences with hospital food themselves, they still rated hospital food poorly,” said Heather Tulloch, co-ordinator of nutrition and dietetic practice with the RQHR.
Part 2 of the project involved taste trials at the Pasqua Hospital.
Hospital staff were invited to sample six entrees they were told were being considered for the cafeteria. In fact, those items were six meals already being served weekly to patients at both hospitals.
Of the staff who tasted the food, 85 per cent rated the taste, appearance, smell and overall quality as good, very good or excellent.
The harvest chili and Greek pork chops were clear winners — rated by 98 per cent of staff as very good or excellent.
Overall, 327 respondents including nurses, therapists, physicians and housekeeping staff rated the meal items.
Nearly two out of three respondents said they would purchase the meal they had eaten if it were offered in the cafeteria.
“This tells us that hospital food doesn’t suck,” Cook said. “There is so much negative media and the expectations are just so low for hospital food … We want to change that story.”
Regular surveys done in the region’s acute care and long-term care facilities ask patients to rate the quality, temperature and variety of meals and if the food met their cultural needs.
Generally, patients rate hospital food as pretty good and the region is working to bring in more locally sourced ingredients all the time.
“It’s an uphill battle in hospitals because people aren’t in their homes, they’re sick, they’re being served their meals on a tray, which is certainly not how they receive them at home, and they’re in an environment where there isn’t homelike smells,” Cook said. “And folks who are sick generally have poor appetites.”
Entrees are a mix of food prepared in-house and outsourced.
“If we can find a product that meets our standards and the nutritional needs for our patients and the quality is either very good or excellent, then we consider that product,” Cook said. “If we can’t find one that we’re happy with, then we make it in house at the General Hospital.”
Almost all broth soups are homemade.
“We weren’t happy with the soups we were purchasing,” Cook said. “From a nutritional standpoint, they weren’t offering much in vegetables and protein and we know that soup is often an item that folks in the hospital do quite well with — it’s a comfort food.”
Many patients come into hospital malnourished.
“Anything that we can do to encourage them to eat well is so important,” Cook said.