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Turning Hospital Food from Icky to Yummy

Food coordinators of Hebrew Rehab and Boston Children's Hospital talk puree, Chinese food, Baby Boomers and food-serving robots!

Not only are the Boston area medical facilities world leaders in care, but also in food service. Whether it's catering to infant or elderly tastebuds, Hebrew Rehab and Boston Children's Hospital are utilizing innovative ways to change the negative stereotype of hospital food. 

The two hospitals couldn't be further apart as it comes to their customers. At the Hebrew Rehabilitation Center, Food Service Director Michael Driscoll caters to 75 percent of longterm care individuals several times a day. The kitchen, which is also kosher, makes 600 meals three times a day and tailoring each meal to specific diets.

"We have approximately 15 different menu types include low-salt, no salt, and diabetic," said Driscoll. "Every day we have a basic meal and out of that we have to remove salt for salt-free people, or puree it for people who can’t chew, or chop it for people who can't chew well."

The food staff includes dietitcians, diet aides, and diet-techs, said Driscoll. "In long term care we have people who are same status all the time, or been on same house diet for 15 years."

At the Boston Children's Hospital, Culinary Program Coordinator Paul O'Connor said they have practically made the food service program into a five-star hotel with orders placed on iPads and a robot that serves food. Like Driscoll, O'Connor emphasized the importance of getting food to patients as quickly as possible, sometimes using interesting delivery methods.

Tugs the Train delivers food on floors to food service people, intended to hopefully brighten a child's day. The children also get to interact with staff chefs, celebrity chefs, as well as Tugs, said O'Connor, "The kids get to see the choo-choo trains. Kids can come down to kitchen, and can do it informally now, and they see how the operation works.They get a little chef hat, a conductor hat. It’s pretty cool."

He said the celebrity chefs are treated like rockstars by the children.

O'Connor and Driscoll's staffs also had a recent opportunity to show off their cooking abilities at the Oct. 27 Mass Health Council Best of Best Chef's Competition. The event featured 10 executive chefs from area hospitals and health care facilities. During the Mass Health Council fundraiser, chefs competed to create a healthy appetizer dish to start the evening’s events during the Annual Chef Challenge.

Children’s Hospital Boston placed second with its Pan Seared Miso Black Cod recipe. Hebrew Rehab's team did not place in their first year in the competition.

Talking about the contest, Driscoll said he enjoyed chef competitions, as he has participated in them in the past, but not this most recent one.

As with Children's Hospital, Hebrew Rehab is being innovative to provide the best food possible. Driscoll said they offer individual food offerings, "We started trying to segregate different floors... and did an [Asian-themed] lunch. We actually had a Chinese guy cooking Chinese food. So we went to one floor to have that for them and over a period of the weeks we went to different floors with Chinese tea and fortune cookies. In the summer we do barbeques outside. Being kosher we are locked into not having meat and dairy together."

By law Hebrew Rehab must have provide four ounces of protein every meal. Driscoll said "there is a lot of fish, omelettes, baked macaroni and cheese" as the more popular meals.

He added a latest wrinkle to the mix is the Baby Boomers generation. He said some of the current elderly population grew up or were impacted by the Great Depression Era. Thus they did not ask for a lot when it came to catering. "Baby boomers needs are much different than people from the depression. Baby boomers grew up eating exotic foods - they are more demanding."

But Driscoll also knows it's tough to please everyone. He spoke of a recent group survey, "One lady in a group meeting said can’t eat the vegetables because they are too hard, and we have to cook them more. Then someone next to her says you cooked them too much. Dealing with the elderly, it can be tricky."

Howard L. November 01, 2011 at 08:01 PM
Good to hear! Wonder how much local sourcing they are doing. Our large institutions could provide a big boost to Mass. farmers and producers as the public schools are increasingly doing.
sheila November 02, 2011 at 11:13 AM
I was in Hebrew Rehab for Reb....the food was bad enough, but the facility itself was worse. I wouldn't recommend it to <anyone.> Signed myself out after four days.
David Ertischek November 02, 2011 at 08:10 PM
Hello Sheila, I'm sorry to hear about your experience. What about other people - what have you heard or experienced at the Hebrew Rehab facility?

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