When you stay in hospital, it’s to get treatment, not to enjoy good food. But meals – not always appetizing – nevertheless have a role to play in healing, and initiatives are multiplying to offer dishes that tempt you.
“The body’s ability to withstand treatment depends greatly on muscle mass, and therefore nutritional status.“, explains to AFP Dr Bruno Raynard, head of the nutrition department at the Gustave Roussy Institute, one of the main French cancer establishments.
Gustave Roussy, for example, launched the “Repas toqué” culinary program in December. Objective: to offer dishes cooked by a starred chef twice a month to around forty children and adolescents suffering from cancer, to stimulate their appetite.
“We first stayed in a hospital where they served beef tongue to the children. It is not possible !“, testifies Élisabeth, mother of a 13-year-old daughter undergoing chemotherapy at Gustave Roussy, who welcomes the initiative.
“Chemotherapy induces sensitivity to odors and changes taste. Children, especially teenagers, often say they feel like they are eating cardboard.“, explains Dr Christelle Dufour, head of the pediatric and adolescent oncology department at Gustave Roussy.
These “Crazy Meals” are going “improve all senses“, she assures us. “First the view, thanks to a pretty plate. Then the sense of smell, via an odor different from the usual trays, and then of course the taste.”
The Saint-Louis hospital in Paris (AP-HP) was the first to launch this program in 2018, at the initiative of the association “Princess Margot” which supports young cancer patients.
Important for morale
Hospital meals are a subject that “comes up regularly among patients and their families”, who consider the trays served unappetizing, declares the president of this association, Muriel Hattab. However, “eating well is also important for morale: it can improve mood and enable a combative state in the face of illness.”
According to national satisfaction surveys organized by the High Authority of Health (HAS), some 58% of hospital patients are satisfied with their meal tray.
The LREM deputy for Val-de-Marne Frédéric Descrozaille experimented with a project called “Meals at the Hospital” from 2018 to 2021, with the support of the Ministry of Health, in three establishments: the AP-HP Paris Center, the hospital center of Paray-Le-Monial (Saône-et-Loire) and that of Douai (North).
The goal was to improve patient satisfaction with meal trays, and to respect the recommendations of the EGalim law, which requires integrating 50% of purchases of quality and sustainable products into collective catering, including at least 20% organic products.
“The meal is an integral part of the treatment offer. This is why the signature of the project is +Eat better, heal faster+“, explains the MP to AFP. “I wanted to prove that without an additional budget line, without an additional article of law, EGalim could be applied to the hospital simply by renewing the food supply.“.
At the end of the experiment, “patient satisfaction increased by 30% and food waste also reduced by up to 30%, an average saving of 27 cents per tray“, specifies to AFP Marie-Cécile Rollin, director of Restau’Co, the interprofessional network of collective catering, which led the project.
Its promoters are now waiting for the Ministry of Health to extend the experiment to other establishments.
French hospitals devote 1 to 2% of their budget to food, according to the National Food Council, an independent consultative body reporting to the ministers responsible for Agriculture, Health, Environment and Consumption.