Ottawa

CHEO spreading the word about its kid-focused hospital menu

CHEO has long made a link between the well-being of its patients and the food it offers children on a menu to choose for themselves, and got a chance to brag about its food philosophy at a conference in Toronto earlier this month.

Kids can order cereal for dinner, and spaghetti for breakfast

Some kids will order eggs for breakfast at CHEO, while others would rather eat grilled cheese, chicken soup or spaghetti. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

CHEO has long made a link between the well-being of its patients and the food it offers children on a menu to choose for themselves, and got a chance to brag about its food philosophy at a conference in Toronto earlier this month.

Instead of mystery meat and tepid broth, the children's hospital in Ottawa offers patients stir-fries, butter chicken and tacos.

The changes date back to 2003, when a patient satisfaction rate of just 30 per cent forced the hospital to switch out salisbury steak for kid-friendly Kraft Dinner, according to Bernice Wolf, a registered dietitian in charge of food services at CHEO. 

Other changes included allowing kids to order from a menu and receive what they want, within 20 minutes, from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. And that's helped to bring the patient satisfaction rate up to 98 per cent, according to Wolf.

'Makes the job a lot easier'

"It's difficult to get children to eat at the best of times. Add the fear of hospital tests, procedures and treatments? Room service makes the job a lot easier for us," said Bernice Wolf, a registered dietitian in charge of food services at CHEO, in an interview with CBC Radio's Ontario Morning.

"Kids can have cereal or toast for supper. And for breakfast, some of our most popular items are chicken noodle soup, grilled cheese sandwiches or spaghetti with meat sauce."

Wolf said "trays don't come back untouched," which is not only good for patients, but better for the hospital's bottom line.

The Canadian Coalition for Green Health Care estimates that about half of the food sent to patient bedsides gets thrown out. 

By giving them choice, "it's getting kids to eat what they want when they want," said Wolf, who added that the hospital is now saving $2 per day, per patient.

CHEO introduced more changes in 2016, getting rid of its deep-fried options in the cafeteria, and offering a sauté station and a smoothie bar instead.

It partnered with local fresh-food growers, such as Suntech in Manotick, to offer patients and other cafeteria users grape tomatoes, mini cucumbers and peppers. 

Even accounting for the price of local and fresh food, the hospital is spending $15,000 less per year, Wolf said.

CBC Radio's Ontario Morning