Hospital snacks

I ended up in Ninewells hospital twice yesterday. Luckily for me, I was simply providing a taxi service for two different hospital visitors.

Some hospitals these days have an area that resembles a shopping mall. One such hospital is Ninewells in Dundee. While we were waiting for visitor number 1 to be released, my delightful assistant and I wandered around looking for the WRVS (Women’s Royal Voluntary Service) cafe. Alas, the WRVS does not appear to run one of their friendly little old lady cafes at Ninewells. Being on rather a large scale, Ninewells has replaced the WRVS with a commercially operated outfit:

As of last year, thanks to the SNP (Scottish National Party), I get free medical prescriptions. Although the NHS (National Health Service) has its problems, I think it’s a wonderful institution and one of the things that makes me glad to live in the UK.

However, for reasons I’m about to elaborate on, I think the NHS has a duty to encourage healthy eating and should choose their snack providers with this in mind. These were the cakes on display in the hospital cafe:

I like a nice doughnut or Danish pastry myself from time to time, and perhaps if you’re in hospital you need a bit of comfort food like this, but the thing that struck me as odd was that these were the only cake choices to be seen. Not one sponge cake or scone in sight.

If there had been a sponge cake I may well have plumped for it, but since I didn’t fancy any of the cakes on offer I opted for a packet of Ginger Parkins biscuits as possibly the least artery-clogging sweet option:

It was very warm, as hospitals tend to be, and so rather than a cup of tea I opted for a bottle of water, while my assistant went for some juice and a packet of salted crisps:

In addition to the doughnuts, pastries and biscuits there were some pre-packed sandwiches in the cafe. There was also a hot food section which contained sausage rolls and meat pies, but I didn’t see a single vegetable or piece of fruit anywhere. In fact, the only ‘healthy’ things I saw in addition to the water were a couple of bottled smoothies, sitting alongside the presumably far more popular, and certainly more numerous, bottles of Coke and other fizzy drinks.

Apparently heart disease is the biggest killer in the western world, and a large proportion of NHS resources – and those of health services in other countries – are consumed by dealing with heart conditions.

Some heart conditions are hereditary, or for some other reason no fault of the people who are unfortunate enough to have them, but you can reduce your risk of developing coronary heart disease by reducing your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. The NHS’s own website states:

” You should avoid food containing saturated fats because these will increase your cholesterol levels.

Foods high in saturated fat include:

-  meat pies 
- sausages and fatty cuts of meat 
- butter 
- ghee – a type of butter that is often used in Indian cooking 
- lard 
- cream 
- hard cheese 
- cakes and biscuits 
- foods that contain coconut or palm oil”

I would think that the food on offer at Ninewells hospital contained all of the above, and very little of the following, also taken from the NHS website.

“A balanced diet should include a small amount of unsaturated fat, which will help reduce your cholesterol levels.

Foods high in unsaturated fat include:

- oily fish 
- avocados 
- nuts and seeds 
- sunflower, rapeseed, olive and vegetable oils”

There may well have been some tuna in sandwiches (no doubt combined with the ubiquitous mayonnaise) and vegetable oils present, but the overwhelming proportion of saturated fats on display was not a good advert for healthy eating.

It would be very hypocritical of me, as a frequent indulger in cakes and the like, to suggest that cutting these things out altogether is what people should do, but I think the NHS needs to practice what it preaches and promote healthy eating in its own hospitals.

Sorry NHS, I think you do a great job in difficult circumstances, but there are plenty of cafe owners running eateries with delicious healthy food options who could be providing a better, healthier, service in your fine hospitals.

That’s my little soapbox item for the day.

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20 thoughts on “Hospital snacks

  1. That is sad that they preach about healthy living, but don’t try to actually encourage it. I’m surprised it was hot there. Every hospital I’ve been to in the States is freezing.

    • It is a great shame, I just wish they could move a bit more quickly with their ideas. I think for the most part their hearts are in the right places, but it seems to take a long time to turn theories into reality. I wonder if the cold hospitals in the States are due to air-conditioning? We don’t really need that in the UK so if they’re doing anything to the air it tends to be heating it.

  2. I’ve noticed the same things in hospitals here – not only in the cafeterias, but in the food that patients are brought. It’s really a strange, puzzling thing. As you say, food is comfort for many, and probably especially for the ill – but isn’t a hospital where someone is supposed to get well?

    • Precisely! The thing is, that you and I both know how easy it is to make tasty healthy food. I’m not saying people shouldn’t be allowed a bit of comfort food but there’s not even a choice, it’s heavy saturated fats or nothing.

      • Absolutely. I indulge myself – denial doesn’t work for me – but as you say, food CAN be both delicious and good for you.

        • So true, but I think there are lots of people who genuinely don’t know that. There must be, or why would so many people live off burgers and fries?

  3. simplicitymaven

    Great post. I’ve seen the same thing when residing in the States. Here in Panama, they don’t serve food in the rural hospitals so family must accommodate. There are food carts galore around the entrance, doing a good business with unhealthy food. Funny, I have a post in my drafts that will be going up in a day or two “Of Soapboxes and Simplicity”. I believe standing on that soapbox can help us mentor others into change… so in the meantime I’m steering clear of hospitals!

    • Thanks for your coment, it is very strange that this unhealthy food option is hospitals is so common worldwide. It just seems to defy logic. I’ll look out for your soapboxes post!

  4. A sad situation, but it’s probably true of many hospitals.

    • It seems to be, but my dad reckons Perth Royal Infirmary is better. They certainly have a WRVS cafe that sells fruit and, I think, home baking.

  5. Great post. It reads like a piece of investigative journalism. Healthy food should be right at the top of a hospital managers agenda for pateints, staff and visitors. But it’s ‘more cost effective’ to feed them salty, sugary, fatty processed junk.

    If it’s OK with you I think I should send a link to Andrew Lansley as a very good example of why his bill to break up the NHS and sell it off to his wealthy friends so they can get even more wealthy off the backs of sick people is truly evil. Oooh, there we go, spleen vented!

    • Thanks very much, I was worried it might seem a bit dull! Please feel free to send it to Andrew Lansley, I strongly believe something should be done about this whole situation. As you can see from the comments, it’s not an unusual situation – not only in the UK but further afield – and it seems ridiculous that such a simple thing to get right is still done so badly.

      I was just thinking today that I could go in there and set up a stall selling healthy wholesome soups for virtually nothing and I bet it would be really popular.

  6. Those hospital snacks look horrible!

    They probably do what they did in the public school system here which was to farm out cooking to the giant food conglomerates that prepare airplane food. They say it’s healthy, but it’s not. The kids usuallly got a sweetened yogurt, a crumbly dry sugary muffin, a carton of milk, and a carton of sugary juice for breakfast, or some eggy bacony fat concoction. It’s just cheap and cuts out the need to employ on-site personnel. Also, they probably get major kickbacks.

    They do keep it cold in hospitals here in the warmer parts of the US, and I think it has something to do with keeping germs at bay and mildew and fungus under control, at least in Houston.

    When I lived in Chicago, all public places were heated to the max, something which I never could understand, since you walked in with coats, scarves, mittens, etc. and then BAKED!

    • That’s what happens here, you dress for the weather outside, which at the moment is not many degrees above freezing, and then you go inside and are immediately roasting. I hadn’t thought about the germs spreading, but you’d think they would in a warm environment. Mind you, if I were lying in a hospital bed not moving I would want it to be warm in the room.

      It’s a dreadful shame about the food the sick and young are fed in large institutions. I can’t believe it would be that much more expensive to feed them properly with nourishing food. Giving them cheap nasty stuff is a very short-term solution and only stores up problems later in life.

  7. So glad you were only providing a taxi service! I couldn’t agree with you more about the selection of food in that that particular tearoom.

    • Thank you, I was glad about that too! I’ve got a bit of a cheek calling this a tearoom really, although I must admit they did serve tea and for all I know it might have been quite good. I noticed it was served in mugs and the chap at the table next to ours had some that looked quite nice.

  8. This is similar to the issue we had in school canteens here in Australia. They used to have a great deal of unhealthy food available but I am pleased to say that they now have a “healthy eating” menu in the canteens. Lots of fruit and vegetables etc.

    • That’s great news. All it takes is a bit of reorganisation and a shift in thinking. Mind you, it also needs someone determined to make it happen, but your story shows it can be done. You’d think that alongside schools, hospitals should be a priority for healthy options.

  9. Kathie

    totally agree with the choices from Ninewells cafe and although the pricing was not mentioned it should have been they have a captive audience and charge the earth for a cup of tea the service is deplorable as well never use the cafe because of this

    • I’m sorry to hear you’ve had such a bad experience and I hope Ninewells do something to improve their service. It’s a while since I’ve been to the cafe now and I can’t remember what the prices were like, but I certainly wouldn’t rush back there. A better cafe would be a huge boon to anyone visiting or staying in hospital.

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