Friday, February 17, 2012

Hospital Food - Symptom or Cause?

I've spent way more time consorting with our fine, single-payer healthcare system in 2012 than I have in the past few years combined. I'm just back from an overnight stay on the pediatrics ward. All is fine, or so we are assuming until tests come back. In fact, my daughter had such a good time there that she didn't want to leave. And she discovered a new, delicious food - peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

The pediatric toddler menu was very interesting. Breakfast was milk, cornflakes, a slice of wholewheat toast with strawberry jam option, and apple juice (which my daughter insisted on eating with a spoon). Lunch was the aforementioned sandwich, chicken noodle soup, milk, canned peaches, and apple juice. Notice anything missing?

That's right, the fruit-and-vegetable category was entirely filled by fruits. I don't know if the hospital has assumed that children won't eat vegetables, or has discovered from experience that they don't (in which case, do they only not eat vegetables prepared in typical hospital-food fashion, boiled to death?). I admit that I have little experience with children not eating vegetables - whether because of luck, parental modelling of finding delight in vegetables, or perversity, our kids like almost all vegetables, and as they age they discover the odd vegetable they refused has become tasty.

I mostly keep quiet about this, though, because perusing the internets tells me that my children have freakish tastes and I'd better not offer advice or brag about them. It's a very touchy subject, and people tend to assume that opinions are actually judgments on their parenting. Especially since it often takes the form of a struggle: parents puree and disguise vegetables, bargain with their children to get a few tastes past the gag reflex, and sometimes, give up and only serve the vegetables that are tolerated.

I am of the generation that ate what was on their plate Or Else, and I have vivid memories of crying while I choked down purple cabbage with soya sauce and sesame seeds, and bit beets in half to swallow the chunks down with milk. I still don't like beets, although I'll cook them for my husband and son (as of last summer, my daughter didn't like them yet). I have a bit of the Or Else mentality - not enough to cause a major power struggle - but I've rarely felt the need to employ eating rules.

What do you think? If children are presented with a variety of good food, eating is joyful, and coercion is not employed, will they come to eat their vegetables? And can this be done in a hospital?


  1. Mark Bigland-PritchardFebruary 17, 2012 at 3:53 PM

    My stepson was brought up with mainstream AngloSaxon attitudes to food - the priorities like with the lump of dead animal and the starch and the sticky sweet stuff, veggies are optional, there is a separate thing called "childrens' food" which emphasises the above even more, etc. The last time I saw the inside of his fridge, his diet was still poor.
    My daughter was brought up under two conflicting systems. Our childminder was a very nice woman but held pretty firmly to the aforesaid AngloSaxon model (as did most working class Sheffielders). Whereas my wife and I value vegetables - she in salads, I in a range of cuisines from Tuscany to North Africa to the Punjab to Kerala to Thailand. It took several years for the effects of Childminder (and school friends and...) to wear off completely, but they did, and Daughter is now deeply frustrated with the institutional food she gets to eat at university.
    Can it be done in a hospital? - well, the hospital has a responsibility to not corrupt the innocent, so there needs to be at least a whole-diet option. That's the minimum. I would go further and say that the medical profession should be teaching kids about what food they need in order to stay healthy. If they can source some really good quality local veggies (and, surely, sick kids deserve the best) and provide encouragement and interaction rather than just waitressing service, I'm sure there will be benefits all round.

    1. I've encountered some AngloSaxon ppls for whom vegetables are like a condiment, as far as portion size, and a less tasty condiment than ketchup or mustard, as far as boiling them to death. I grew up with a "meat starch veg" typical meal (no sweets, my parents were very anti-sugar) but the veg was always home grown and varied, and while I didn't like it all, I think it made a positive difference.

      The last part of what you said really interests me. Nurse friends, what do you think about the role of health providers (note that title!) in nutrition education?