If you thought dietary food in hospitals is insipid then it’s time to change your view

Dry bread, limp peas, bland meat, the ubiquitous kanji are what come to mind when you think - dietary food. The meals served to patients are limiting in terms of variety and taste. The excuse is the need to follow nutritional guidelines. Nothing much to choose from!

This dull, listless dietary food seems to have gone through a complete makeover.

Castle & Cook Caterers Ltd. (CCCL), a catering company with a focus on health care is a pioneer in this field. It was awarded the ISO 22000-2005 certification for food safety standards recently.

K. V. Sudhan, a master chef with over three decades of experience in luxury hotels, took it up as a challenge in 2002. With no prototype to follow he ventured to experiment with a new menu at the Lakeshore Hospital & Research Centre Ltd that would serve healthy and tasty food. Quiet unconsciously he was setting a trend.

“Food is important. And serving tasty food is always the challenge for the chef. When it comes to hospitals and patients this becomes a huge responsibility. Hospitals cannot do without serving good, healthy, hygienic food. The patients demand this. And food has to be tasty, diet food or not. So when I took up this job I knew I had to create a menu based on the dietary requirements of patients and also had to make it tasty,” says Sudhan who has cooked for luminaries like Queen Elizabeth, Yassar Arafat and King Fahd among the many during his long career in the hospitality industry. He is now General Manager of CCCL.

Sudhan created an elaborate menu of 80-90 patient-specific dishes that includes the calories of each ingredient that goes into it. This includes the ICU’s tube-feed diet. Then there is the regular hospital canteen for which his company caters. So in the hospitals where Sudhan runs the kitchen there are a variety of options for the patients ranging from “Indian, Continental, Chinese and Arabic, to eggs and toast, idili, dosa for a typical breakfast, fried rice, chilli chicken, grilled fish with sautéed vegetables, beef for lunch, a wide choice for dinner rounded off with the choice of desserts.”

The hospital dietician keeps a tab on the needs of the patients. “We get the list and orders in advance. We do the room service, which enables us to get their feedback and also understand their tastes. We know well what, from the hospital charts, patients want and what to avoid. From within this we try and give them tasty and healthy food, adding or doing away with certain ingredients,” adds Abhishek Nair, one of the directors of CCCL.

The running of this kitchen is a complicated affair. For, a patient just coming out of tonsillectomy will be on a different diet than a patient recovering from a broken leg. A pregnant woman may require more calories and different nutrients than a young child would need.

Trained personnel including specialised chefs work in these hospital kitchens. Ernakulam General Hospital introduced dietary food for in-patients two years back. The project is implemented by the Hospital Development Society. “Here the patients are served a standard diet as prescribed by the dietician. Three fixed meals and evening tea are served free of cost. We are the only government hospital in the country to serve patient specific food . We have three dedicated cooks and staff for the job,” informs Mumtaz Khalid Ismail, consultant nutritionist who designed and initiated this project.

Since 1998 a full-fledged dietary kitchen functions at Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences and Research Centre. “This is managed by the hospital and is condition specific. We look at therapeutic diet and also cater to the specific needs of patients like low-high fibre food, low fat depending on what the dietician prescribes. There is a cyclic menu which is ova-vegetarian,” says Brahmacharini Nivedita, chief dietician, Amrita Hospital.

“A flexible menu keeping to the dietary requirements, consistency, and timely service are the everyday challenges. We have a dietician on board who double checks on the quality and hygiene of the food. Then there are the random checks from the hospital that keep us on our toes,” says S. Ajithkumar, director of CCCL.

A patient, who does not want to be named, expressed surprise at the elaborate menu card in the room. “Staying in a hospital is not a pleasure. But let me tell you the food served lightened things for me. And when I returned I made sure I got the dietary menu I was served from the canteen chef.”

“We have a protocol as what to do when someone on a special diet comes in. When we plan the menu for this patient we include the diet prescribed. The whole thing has been formed making it flexible to include healthy meals for children to cancer patients who often have depleted appetites,” explains Sudhan.

More In: Kochi | Food | Metroplus | Features