Healthy Options

Why have hospital cafeterias been excused from our health mission? Is Frito Lay forging doctor’s notes?

During residency I spent a month at a hospital that contained a Wendy’s. The irony wasn’t lost on me. Over late-night double bacon cheeseburgers, I wondered what person or body authorized this symbiotic relationship.

My current hospital cafeteria is a 7-eleven with a salad bar. The only thing missing are lotto tickets. Here’s a tour:

As you pick up a wet tray from the stack, you stand in front of a dessert cooler.

The featured entrees are fried chicken and something from the meat-soaking-in-gravy group.

After the entrees you pass an ice-cream freezer.

Next is a station featuring hotdogs, hamburgers, fries, and onion rings.

To be fair, the next counter offers several lettuce-based options – all containing meat or cheese. Six ounces of dressing will cover your selection.

Add a soft drink to your meal and the price goes down because you bought the special. The smallest cup available is sixteen ounces. Water is available for purchase. Vitamin water, too, in case you don’t tolerate plants or Flintstones.

Approaching the cashiers you pass hulking racks of chips, cookies, and Hostess products. At the pay counter is a basket of fruit. While USDA guidelines suggest half your plate be fruit and vegetables, I estimate eight percent of our cafeteria space features anything found at a farmer’s market. Of note, nothing is served on a plate. Instead, styrofoam boxes, sectioned like TV dinner trays, are the china. Nothing says nutrition like the squeak of styrofoam.

I asked management if any healthcare provider is consulted in menu planning and/or overall design. I was referred to the healthy options selections, identified on the displays by the little heart symbol. Effort noted, but why not promote good nutrition as a primary goal and simply eliminate the unhealthy options? This is a hospital after all, not a ballpark. At the very least, create a cute menu symbol for the ninety percent of offerings not earning a heart. Suggestions?

Chris Porter MD


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