If Your Hospital Food Sucks, Here’s What You Can Do About It

Nutrition is important when fighting cancer- but isn't always easy. It's tough maintaining a healthy, balanced, nutritious diet when your choices may be limited during a hospital stay. Here's how to work around that.

One of the most important things to be mindful of when undergoing cancer treatment, especially immunosuppressive chemotherapy, is nutrition. Many of us have received or are currently receiving treatment that requires overnight or multi-night hospital stays, and we all know how limited the food options can be. Whatever treatment location you’re in, however, there are ways to ensure that you receive the proper nutrition that will help your body recover and heal as quickly as possible. I know it sounds easier said than done – and trust me, I’ve been there– but it isn’t as daunting as you might think.

During my treatment, the protocol I was on mandated that each of the ten chemotherapy rounds be administered in-patient—and every three weeks, I would spend a minimum of 6 days in the hospital. One of the things my doctor reiterated to me was that if I was immunocompromised (which I often was), I could not eat anything raw. I also spoke with my assigned dietician, who explained that due to the effects that chemotherapy would have on my immune system, protein was of the utmost importance.

I had specific parameters guiding what I needed to eat and while the in-patient menu at my specific treatment center did have some variety in meal options, that does not necessarily mean that they were satisfying or nutritionally sufficient. Needless to say, I had to find a way to overcome unappetizing food and get creative in how I approached nutrition, while in the hospital.

Here are some tips I have for you, based on my own experience.

1. Do Your Research

Every medical institution will have at least one meal option that contains something nutritional. By doing my research on food nutrition in advance, I was able to browse the hospital menu and pull out foods that would fulfill my nutritional needs—“curate” my own menu, if you will. It’s important to remember that while taste is certainly important, sometimes nutritional value trumps it and you make need to suck it up temporarily in the interest of your health.

2. Make Your Meals In Advance

If you are able to have some time out of the hospital in between treatments, I recommend prepping meals in advance of your hospital stays. Or, alternatively, if you have a loved one by your side, ask them to prep healthy, appetizing meals right before you are admitted for a hospital stay. I would sometimes make meals like grilled chicken and asparagus that I knew I liked, so that I would have them by my side during my hospital stays. Most hospital floors have refrigerators, and I would just have the nursing staff keep them for me so I could use them as meal replacements when I wasn’t satisfied with the hospital menu options.

3. Leverage Delivery Services

There are a TON of online delivery services out there today – from Seamless to GrubHub to Delivery Dudes, not to mention individual restaurants that deliver on their own. Savor Health is one great meal-delivery service for cancer patients. During my hospital stays, I would often get online to see which restaurants in the area had delivery options and order outside meals as replacements. This allowed me to have tasty, nutritious meals in the hospital, while not having to deal with the headache of prepping my own.

4. Remember Why You HAVE To Eat

Cancer can take away appetites entirely, making eating an unwanted chore. When I didn’t have the appetite, I forced myself to drink Ensure drinks to get the necessary nutrition for the day because I knew that it would make a difference in my treatment. By eating healthy meals, in addition to other healthy activities, your recovery process will be that much smoother.

Regardless of your situation or dietary restrictions, there are always “meal hacks” that allow you to find nutritious meals during your hospital stays. Remember: as I mentioned, sometimes nutrition may come at the sacrifice of taste, depending on availability, but it’s a sacrifice worth making.

Have any tricks to work with hospital meals of your own? Share yours in the comments below!