How to Get Patient Catering Right

Hospitals are busy places, and that’s not just for the doctors and nurses. With a regular rotation of patients, staff and visitors who all need nutritious and varied meals several times a day, it’s safe to say that there’s quite a lot on a healthcare caterer’s plate.

At McCain, we have many years’ experience of working with healthcare catering teams and menu planners and helping them to serve up delicious dishes around the clock. We understand the industry’s pressures and demands, and recognise the importance of sourcing products that are tasty, easy to prepare, and – most of all – beneficial to patients’ recoveries.

Andy Jones – the former chair of the Hospital Caterers Association – shares our views on the importance of patients eating well. With over thirty years’ experience of healthcare catering, we sat down with Andy to find out about his time in the sector, and hear his expert advice for getting patient catering right.

Aim for Homemade

Everyone enjoys home-style food that’s made with love and care; it’s even more important for hospital patients looking for comfort and reassurance.

Andy agrees. ‘I want every patient to be served the same high standards of meals that I’d expect my mum to be served’, he said. ‘In hospital, you don’t want to eat anything that’s different to what you have at home, and caterers need to offer home-style cooking that patients enjoy’.

From a caterer’s perspective, this can seem difficult to achieve. Because meals take some time to be transported from kitchens to wards, they need to be reasonably easy to make, which isn't possible if you have to prepare everything from scratch. Similarly, it risks incurring much greater costs: raw ingredients are inconsistent in quality, and any that are unusable are a waste of funds. 

However, Andy says that offering home-style food can be easy if caterers familiarise themselves with the industry’s challenges and learn to cook with the right products. An example he gives is our Chef Solutions Simply Mash – it’s straightforward to prepare, received an 85% approval rating from patients when tried out in a hospital environment, and ‘the feedback was that it tasted like real mash’, Andy said. Providing the year-round consistency in costs, quantity, and quality that caterers need, and giving patients a taste of home, he added that it ‘improves quality of care, and can help patients to get back home more quickly'.

Eating for Good Health

Whilst it’s essential to serve nutritional meals that improve patients’ health and wellbeing, the best caterers know that no-one likes to be served food just because it ticks a box. Instead, balance tastiness and healthiness in every dish, and serve up food that patients will actually enjoy. Andy summarises this succinctly: ‘It’s not about looking at healthy eating, but eating for good health’. 

With this in mind, it’s valuable to take note of the meals that are receiving the highest uptake, and think about why certain meals may be receiving a more lukewarm response. This enables you to ensure that you’re only serving the dishes that take your consumers like. After all, every uneaten plate of food indicates a patient who’s missed out on nutrition that’s essential for their recovery.

Offer Quality and Choice

Every patient brings unique needs to the table – be they dietary, cultural or religious – and needs to be served meals that they enjoy, whether that’s what they like at home or their go-to selections when dining out. It means that the onus is always on caterers to provide a range of different cuisines and dishes.

Andy sees this as being particularly important today, given how the concept of catering has changed. ‘When I started back in 1980, the staples were mashed potato and chips – that’s all you bought anywhere! But now things have evolved. You’ve gone from hashed browns, to sweet potato chips, and variants of those’.  

At McCain Foodservice, we offer caterers a diverse range of products to meet consumers’ needs, from traditional options like our Original Choice Chips to more premium variants. ‘Let’s face it’, Andy says, ‘even if you’re a patient in bed, you’re a customer’. It’s never been more vital to provide your consumers with high quality and varied meals, on menus that are always up to date with the trends.

To find out more about how McCain Foodservice can help you improve your patient catering service with meals that are delicious, cost-effective and nutritionally rich, take a look at our healthcare page or get in touch today.