Psychiatric Hospitals: The food is terrible… and such small portions

Yum. Actual meal at one of Ontario's psychiatric hospitals.

Yum. Actual meal at one of Ontario’s psychiatric hospitals.

The nurse thought it was a mistake. A large patient at Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences was given a plate with six pieces of ravioli on it as that day’s lunch. The nurse on the unit thought it was not going to be nearly enough. When she contacted the dietary department they said there was no mistake, these are proper portions.

Staff at Ontario Shores tell us that such portions mean the same patients are down at the canteen later on filling up on less healthy foods.

Recently we asked representatives from our mental health sector if they had similar experiences to their colleagues at Ontario Shores. The answer was yes.

By being strict about calorie counts, you would think that patients would be losing weight. However, when the evening meal leaves you hungry, there are other options, unhealthy options that result in patients actually gaining weight.

In another psychiatric hospital we were told of patients ordering in fast food to fill that hunger. While delivering a pizza or Chinese food to a public hospital may appear odd, it is not uncommon.

We were told these hospitals are taking it right to the line with regard to portion size and calorie count.

Given the continual complaints we hear about hospital food – particularly when it has been cooked miles away, frozen and rethermalized at the hospital – it reminds us of the old joke – the food here is terrible, and such small portions too!

Given Ontario’s psychiatric hospitals are run fiscally in the black, we can only conclude that the decision is based on a misplaced fervour for portion control and not about scaling back on food to save money. At least we would hope not.

The fact that this appears to be happening simultaneously at multiple locations would suggest there may be the imprint of the Ministry somewhere on this.

If the Ministry truly believes in evidence-based practice, it should be taking a hard look at the results of such policy. Anecdotal evidence would suggest it is having the opposite result to that which was intended. A lot of pizza, chips, KFC, and Chinese take-out is not going to result in a healthier patient population.

We also hear there is a fair amount of trading going on, bits of one meal traded for another. Concerns were expressed about the choices made by low-functioning mental health patients.

Then again, what would any of us do if forced into a similar situation? We hear all the time about family members bringing food into hospitals to supplement what’s available, or when it is unpalatable, to replace what’s on offer.

Meanwhile in Britain, which we often look to as an advanced view of what to expect in Ontario, the Care Quality Commission has issued 12 hospitals with warnings around meeting the basic nutritional needs of patients.

In the UK the issue is not so much dietary engineering around portions, but having the staff to assist patients with their meals.

According to the UK Telegraph, elderly patients in particular are not being given the assistance they need to eat, are being interrupted during meals, or have their food taken away before the meal is concluded. Sometimes the answer can be as simple as having someone take the lid off the meal container for a frail patient.

All of these things take time, and as health systems run on fewer and fewer staff, it becomes more difficult to attend to such details.

What’s the point of having all the expensive new technology and billion dollar P3 buildings if patients cannot access enough nutrition to sustain themselves while in hospital? Now that’s food for thought.

12 responses to “Psychiatric Hospitals: The food is terrible… and such small portions

  1. Poor suffering patients have to order pizza and chinese ? What a shame ? Wasted trays could feed a a couple of large families at each meal. OS patients eat more nutritious food then anybody on ODSP in the community part of why many patients dont want to be discharged?

  2. Ghost — why does this have the feeling of the Monty Python skit where the characters try and out-do themselves in how bad they had it? “We used to live in a hole in the road.” “Luxury!” The only thing is, this is no joke. Take a look at that picture and ask yourself whether you think this could seriously feed a large family? Is six ravioli on a plate enough to feed a family in Whitby?

  3. Something's Fishy

    Yum! Nothing like mystery meat served up with a side of discoloured veggies and “code brown” gravy. Makes my mouth water.

    • Definitely one of the less scrumptious meals at the shores! Must of been at the back of freezer under the heading portion controls!

  4. The photo is not from Ontario Shores, but one of the other Ontario psych hospitals.

  5. The days are gone when good “fresh” meals are cooked daily. I think staff do well considering what they have to work with. Unfortunately most of it is not fresh, a lot of processed foods, nevermind the look or portion but how healthy is it really?. Another problem… all portions are generally the same no matter how big or small the individual. Even on proper nutritional diets caloric intake is based on weight, kind of hard to achieve when portions are the same all served up on a belt line. And appealing? Hardly? Seen enough hospital food that looks more like slop on a plate. I feel bad for the workers sure anyone who has been in the business long enough has certainly seen a change for the worse but they do their best.

    At the very least it is a meal, better than some get, you only have to volunteer in the community for that kind of eye-opener but at the same time think I would have difficulty eating what’s being provided in the hospitals. Kind of difficult reality to swallow knowing senior management teams reap the benefits of high wages and bonuses and patients suffer the consequences of budget restraints. Always hits programs, nursing care, food and support services first where patients have the greatest needs.

  6. Agree. Hospital food service workers have been raising similiar issues with us for some time. When we visited York Central last year to make a video about hospital support, it was refreshing to see the hospital had returned to both menu based and fresh food service. The workers there appeared to be very happy about the change. When we all want the best for our patients — whether it be in a general hospital or a psychiatric hospital — it ends up making life better for everyone, including front line workers.

  7. Great news about York Central. It would be nice if other hospitals followed that path. No doubt it would boost morale throughout the patient environment and certainly help food service workers feel good about the work the do. It is a thankless job in a hectic environment.

    That kind of change even at the food service level would be a building block in that corporate image some of these pysch hospitals are trying to achieve, certainly promoting good health in aspects. Hopefully some good changes in the future, new year and it is long overdue!

  8. this is crazy. the food at OS wins awards. it’s fresh. this is propaganda and it’s infantile.

  9. Tapestry — you may have misread this story. It’s not about Ontario Shores, but the approach to food services across all psychiatric hospitals, including in the later paragraphs, a perspective of nutritional issues in UK general hospitals.

  10. To Tapestry –the Cafeteria wins awards, the patient’s don’t often eat there. They eat at the canteen at OS. Mostly grilled/fried items. The canteen has to my knowledge, not won any awards. I work in a mental health setting where often, the food is the source of escalating patients, not getting enough, not appetizing, etc….

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