The History of Hospital Food

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Food within hospitals has for centuries played an important part in healing and recovery. Today, catering systems can be highly advanced mobile units which allow staff to prepare and feed patients right by their beds although this was not always the case.

In fact, however dubious the medical practices, in medieval Europe the value of hospital food was well understood by practitioners. Hospitals at this time were rarely operated by secular members of society and instead were the mainstay of the church, with many doctors doubling as clerics and many of the support staff being monks. It was these monks that usually prepared meals for patients.

In other parts of the world hospital food also played an important role, in some Islamic countries chroniclers speak of food which would have been suitable for nobles and kings. Many historians have argued that the high quality of care in the secular hospitals that were built in urban areas were a considerable achievement with medieval Islamic society.

Within Europe in later centuries the function of hospitals and those offering the care also changed. This was particularly the case in the eighteenth and nineteenth century where the monastery hospitals began to be replaced by more professional hospitals run by the military. Once again hospital food remained and important element within the recovery process although most hospital diets consisted of bread, beef and beer, although the serving of alcohol did diminish in the latter stages of this period.

Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries a greater understanding of the role that food played in healing was gained. Termed nutritional science hospitals now comprehended that there was a direct correlation between the food given to a patient and healing times and meals had to be carefully planned to ensure patients received all of the nutrients they needed.

Today hospital food is as important as ever although tight budgetary restraints and pressures on staff mean that hospitals are now looking for evermore advanced and efficient methods of food preparation which do not sacrifice taste, presentation or nutritional value.