Hospital food a delicious surprise

What do you feel like eating? Something refreshing like a Caribbean chicken salad with mandarin oranges, cucumbers and pineapple? Or maybe you’re craving the comfort of turkey and dressing? That question is especially important when how you’re feeling is the reason you’re dining in a hospital.

Patients at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital are treated to a restaurant-style menu of chef-prepared meals approved by a registered dietitian. “Gourmet hospital food is not an oxymoron,” said Mark Galvin, director of hospitality services. “Hospital food service has come a long way.”

Registered dietitian Lanier Dabruzzi was in Piedmont Hospital recently to deliver her second child. Here’s her review: “The chicken noodle soup with the savory broth, chunks of protein-packed chicken and satisfying noodles was exactly what the doctor ordered, or dietitian in this case! And who thinks of hospital room service using fresh herbs? It was great!”

The chef even gets requests for recipes. “It’s the best feeling when we get compliments from patients and visitors,” said Darryl Start, executive chef for nutrition & food services. The pot roast with roasted vegetables is the most popular. Panko crumb-crusted tilapia with citrus sauce is a favorite, too.

There’s a level of difficulty added to creating appealing recipes in a healthcare setting because of special diets including low sodium, low cholesterol and carbohydrate-controlled.

Susan Chapman, manager of nutrition services said, “When patients find out I’m a dietitian, they often say with surprise and shock that the food is good. It’s not drudgery hospital food, even with dietary restrictions.”

Chapman reduced the number of special diets from a cumbersome and unnecessary 22 down to six. “Hospitals are moving away from special diets except for extreme examples,” said Chapman.

Cafeteria fare

On a recent tour of the hospital’s cafeteria, called the Collier Café, I learned that healthy additions are part of the plan to feed employees and visitors, too. There’s a once-a-week farmer’s market with affordable fresh produce for sale. Spa-like water coolers are flavored with oranges, lemons and sometimes cucumber. Salmon Caesar salad was the lunchtime special. There is a great variety of vegetables included lentils and curried chickpeas. Fried chicken and French fries are off the menu, replaced by oven baked options.

“Many of our employees work up to 12 hours so the majority of their meals are eaten here,” said Galvin. “So at least they do have healthy options.”

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Carolyn O’Neil is a registered dietitian and author of “The Slim Down South Cookbook.” Email her at