What’s for lunch? Hospital food!

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August 13, 2007

A week ago Sunday, the ladder that I was using to climb off a boat collapsed and dropped me onto a jetty beam in the water six feet below. The jetty grazed my head and broke my arm. One long operation and 20 or so stitches later, I found myself at the mercy of the French health care system for meals. And I’m here to tell you that even in France (and despite the rosy picture Michael Moore has painted of French health care in Sicko), hospital food is just as wretched as it is in the U.S.

Take my first meal, a breakfast of four slices of Melba toast and tepid tea. Or lunch: two plates of unseasoned macaroni (the second to make up for the fact that I’d said no meat), instant mashed potatoes, and a can of pudding. Dinner? Same as lunch—I think they just threw in the towel when I mentioned I was veg. Granted, the morphine nausea kept me from feeling all that hungry, but still, I wondered, “How’s this food going to help me get well?”

I know from a story we did in VT back in February (Alert: Should hospital food come with warning labels?) that my experience is pretty much the norm. Hospitals lag far, far behind—even Coca Cola, a company not exactly known for its interest in nutrition, is hip enough to health issues to start pumping soft drinks full of vitamins. Still, it may be years before hospitals put into practice what most of the health professionals who work there know: that whole foods and fresh fruits and vegetables prevent illness and speed healing.

In the meantime, I’m grateful to the friends who brought me food during my hospital stay. It wasn’t much—a bag of grapes, whole-grain crackers, cheese, a few juice boxes, and the ginger tea I’d requested to settle my stomach—but it nourished me enough to get out a day early. Their generosity got me thinking: What are some of the best items to take to someone in the hospital? Food or otherwise? I know from here on out, I’ll never visit a sick friend without a bunch of grapes, a few bags of ginger tea, and a tabloid or two in hand. What about you? Got any good convalescent suggestions?

(PS: For the follow-up on last week’s plum tart…the second try worked fine, but the third time was really the charm. Not only did I blind bake the crust 10 minutes, but I sprinkled it with 1/2 cup almond flour to help soak up the juice even more.)

—Mary Margaret Chappell, food editor