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Times have changed for hospital food, and grateful patients could not be happier. As medications and other treatments for cancer patients have evolved, so have their meals. Hospitals have begun to stress the quality and variety of foods they offer, as increasing emphasis is placed on the role of taste appeal and good nutrition in fighting cancer.


Examples of how things have changed for the better are the room service programs, such as the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center’s “Room Service at M.D. Anderson.”1,2 This is an extensive menu from which patients and their guests can order snacks and meals any time between 6:30 am and 9:30 pm by dialing the catchy inhospital number, 2-DINE. In addition to restaurant fare chosen by the chefs, patients can build their own breakfast sandwiches, create their own omelets, build their own salads, sandwiches or pasta bowls … and top everything off with their choice of desserts. When possible, foods on the menu, such as yogurts, ice cream, and sorbets, are offered in different brands as well as flavors. The menu looks like it belongs in a high-end diner, except for the multiple variations available for so many of the foods. The Houston hospital’s Room Service staff says that once an order has been placed, the patient or guest can expect to receive their freshly prepared food in 45 minutes.

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The goals of these programs are to tempt patients’ appetites, meet their nutritional needs, and provide enjoyable dining experiences with a large selection of appealing and healthful food choices. Although the M.D. Anderson service is for cancer inpatients and others with special dietary needs, caregivers, family members, and friends of inpatients may also order from room service. The clinical nutrition personnel work with each patient’s health care team to provide nutritional evaluation, education, and counseling, as well as to identify opportunities for intervention or support.

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital also has a room service program, which is available from 6:30 am to 10:00 pm. The nutrition staff says their food delivery program is formulated to increase patients’ dietary intakes and enhance their satisfaction levels. The menu is designed to provide healthful food choices and child-friendly food items. In addition, members of the clinical staff from the Cincinnati Children’s Division of Nutrition Therapy assist patients who are on specialized diets.

Patients receive the Room Service menu when they are admitted. One of the goals of the program is to educate patients and their families about proper nutrition and eating habits, and information for accessing the USDA’s My Pyramid/My Plate on the Internet is provided on the back of the menu.3 When a patient submits a food request, Room Service nutrition care assistants promote balanced meal selections.


Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center’s executive chef, Pnina Peled, has won multiple awards. She is renowned for the exceptional consideration she gives all the hospital’s patients and for the creative meals that result. She is also a very busy executive chef. Her responsibilities include food services for more than 350 inpatients and the employee and guest cafeterias, as well as the operating room lounge. In addition, she oversees special functions and the hospital’s retail operations: food sold in the gift shop, the Cyber Café, Starbucks, and the Student Faculty Club.


Although Memorial Sloan-Kettering patients can choose from 75 multiethnic and diet-specific menu variations, Chef Peled alters recipes in order to appeal to her patients and still meet their dietary restrictions. This is especially challenging when it comes to the children. She says, “I have to keep in mind that they are immune-compromised and in many cases they are restricted from any raw foods, including fruits and vegetables. I have to be creative when a child on a low-fat, low-sugar diet wants pasta carbonara.”4 Many patients have had bone-marrow transplants or are on steroids and must be on low microbial diets; others have difficulty eating due to complications of chemotherapy. The chef and her three sous chefs are happy to customize a recipe in order to safely replicate a favorite food from a fast-food restaurant or Grandma’s cooking.

The goal is always the same: to stimulate the patient’s appetite and to limit or avoid parenteral or enteral nutrition. Peled types up personalized menus, complete with graphics, when necessary. If a patient comes to the hospital from another country and cannot speak English, the chef has the menu translated into the patient’s language with each item numbered. The staff has a coordinating menu in English, with the items numbered in the same order. The patient simply has to ask for the number of the menu item in order to get the desired food.