Cooking up a speedy recovery for patients

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It is not just the skill of the medical staff that makes people feel better when they’re in hospital, the food they eat plays an important role too.

The issue of hospital food has attracted the interest of some high profile names, with Prince Charles backing the Soil Association’s campaign to improve it and celebrity chef James Martin working with staff at Scarborough Hospital to change the menu.

The 63 catering staff at Kettering General Hospital work hard to feed a small army of patients, visitors and staff with nutritious, high-quality food every day.

Joint head chef Michael Weston said: “Food is very important to our patients. It is something they look forward to each day and we do our very best to make our meals as tasty, nutritious and varied as we can.”

The catering team works in shifts from 7am to 8pm and also provides snack boxes for patients who arrive at night. The 12 chefs provide up to 20 choices daily, including specialist food for diabetics, gluten free meals, vegetarian options and low fat and low salt meals. They also prepare special food for cancer sufferers and patients who have difficulty swallowing.

Michael said: “We believe that having good food really helps patients to recover and get ready to go home.

“We cook almost all of our meals from fresh ingredients every day so that the quality of our food is as high as possible, and we work closely with the hospital’s dieticians to make sure our meals have all the right ingredients for a balanced and healthy diet.”

The menu is worked out on a seven day cycle and is reviewed every six months. Michael and the hospital’s other head chef Sarah Gaziano devise the menu and the recipes, but encourage the other chefs to come up with suggestions and always listen to feedback from patients.

Sarah said: “We are proud of the food we produce, which is made daily using fresh ingredients. We get a lot of good feedback in patient surveys and try to address any issues that come up. For example we now make all our own soup after feedback from patients.”

However, it is not possible to please everyone. Michael said: “A lot of people ask for steak, but by the time we’d cooked it and got it onto the ward it would be like a piece of leather, some of the wards are more than 10 minutes away.”

The most popular dishes on the menu are traditional meals such as cottage pie, roast dinners and fish and chips. Sarah said: “When people are ill they want traditional, comfort food.”

Some patients arrive in hospital malnourished and the chefs work closely with nurses to make sure they get the diet they need.

Michael said: “Elderly patients in particular can be malnourished, they may find it difficult to get to the shops and unless they have someone nearby popping in to see them it is easy for them to not eat properly.”

The catering team also cooks for the staff restaurant, which has a separate menu. Here seasons play a part in people’s decisions. Michael said: “Normally the sticky toffee pudding sells out, but on Wednesday we only sold two portions, people are on their new year diets.”

Sarah added: “The salad bar is also very popular in January, you see people hovering near the chips before moving on.”

The chefs are proud of how little of the food they prepare is wasted. Patients choose their meals the day before so everything is cooked to order and the hospital has a policy of protected meal times when nursing staff are expected to concentrate on making sure people eat their food. There is also a red tray scheme which highlights to nursing staff people who might have difficulties feeding themselves.

The kitchen’s busiest time is from 10.30am to 1.30pm, but anyone who has watched a television programme about professional kitchens might get a surprise. Sarah said: “Everything is very placid, we try and keep as calm as possible. We only get aerated when something breaks down.”

Michael added: “It’s a happy team, Sarah and I have both been here for more than 20 years and we’re all proud of what we do.”