In 2014, new regulations were introduced in NHS hospitals throughout the UK, with mandatory food standards being introduced within the NHS for the first time ever. Alongside this, it was also announced that the food and catering available in NHS hospitals would be opened up for review. Anyone visiting an NHS hospital can now rate the food they experienced there, which forms a collated score publicly visible on the NHS choices website.
This doesn’t just mean that patients staying at UK hospitals will be able to review the catering, visitors and staff are invited to give a score too. Although a number of factors are scored in these reviews, there are perhaps two points particularly relevant to hospital caterers. Firstly, is the food being served high quality? And secondly, is there a good choice of food available?
To help out hospital caterers and those in the wider healthcare sector, we’ve put together a few points to consider when working out how to offer quality and choice to patients, staff, and visitors alike.
Lay out the essentials
Before even thinking about putting a menu together, you’ll need to set out what exactly you’re trying to achieve – or more precisely, what the menu is trying to achieve.
When starting out, it’s a good idea to set out the basic but important benchmarks that need to be met by your menu. This means making sure that whatever food for hospital patients you’re offering, it’s able to meet general as well as individual nutritional requirements. As well as this, you also need to cater to the religious, cultural, or personal needs and preferences of patients, staff, and visitors. This means formulating recipes in such a way that if requested, you should have no problem making a certain dish halal, kosher, vegetarian or vegan.
As well as this, the NHS sets out a few things that patients should expect of healthcare catering. Amongst these is that patients should expect any food and drink served to be nutritious, appetising, and tasty, something which is an essential part of the care package provided by hospitals. As such, finding high quality ingredients that can form part of a nutritionally balanced meal, and that have the capacity to be used in a variety of flavoursome recipes, should be one of the key concerns for healthcare caterers.
For patients, hospital food isn’t just about getting the right nutrients, it can also bring a little home comfort, enhancing their overall experience of the hospital. It’s a good idea to make sure to provide foods and meals that patients are likely to eat at home, offering a familiarity to patients whilst they’re in an unfamiliar situation.
There are therefore cultural considerations that need to be appreciated; whilst mashed potato might be a traditional home cooked meal for some patients, biryani might be for others. It’s important to address this concept, and accept that foods that are familiar to some will be unfamiliar to others. After all, it’s been documented that when patients don’t have options that they’re familiar with they’re actually more likely to miss meals altogether.
A solution to this could come from offering tailored “cuisine” sections in your menu, as in this sample flexi menu from the Hospital Caterers Association. By doing this, you could be ticking off two tasks simultaneously, offering familiarity alongside a wider variety of other foods should patients want a different choice.
In offering quality and choice to patients in particular, you should make customers feel as though they’re able to eat any of the foods on your menu without restrictions.
For example, if a person would like to eat a certain meal, but is unable to do so because it contains meat, then you should be able to easily offer a meat free alternative. In this example this could mean simply substituting any meat products in the menu for meat-free versions, or being able to recommend another dish on the menu that is similar.
It’s also important for healthcare caterers to be able to provide “free-from” options to patients that require these. This doesn’t necessarily need to mean creating a separate free-from menu, and you could take the decision to simply make certain dishes free-from altogether; something that food development Chef Steve Walpole demonstrated might be easier that you’d think.
To summarise, perhaps the most important thing to consider when formulating a healthcare menu is to consider and anticipate the different choices that patients, staff and visitors to the hospital might like to make. By offering high quality and versatile ingredients, in a varied and wide ranging amount of cuisine formats, you’ll be giving people the choice and variety they rightly expect.
Want to find out how McCain products can help you offer quality and choice? Get in touch with us today.