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Basile Matabaro-Byamasu, 16, is served a hoisin beef and udon noodle dish at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) in Ottawa on Sept. 13, 2018.

Blair Gable

Chef Simon Wiseman’s cafeteria menu features dishes such as red Thai curry, butter chicken, basil pesto with kale, and pasta with a white wine cream sauce and mushrooms. His specials have included Fogo Island cod and Scotch eggs. Almost everything is homemade, and much of it locally sourced, including the vegetables he often pulls from his garden.

This is not what comes to mind when you think of hospital food. But thanks to the success of a pilot program at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa, patients across the facility will be enjoying such fare in coming weeks.

“Kids are picky eaters at the best of times. When they are in the hospital, they are going to treatments or tests and they’re not well, it’s hard to get them to eat. If we can provide food that is comforting and nourishing and they have an appetite for … that can all lead to earlier discharges and decreasing the length of stay,” says Bernice Wolf, director of food and marketed services at CHEO.

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The pilot program, currently available to fewer than 20 patients in the hospital’s eating disorders group, grew out of an overhaul of the cafeteria designed to promote a healthy food strategy in 2016.

Chef Simon Wiseman picks fresh vegetables and herbs in the healing garden at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario.

Blair Gable

CHEO patient Kyle Akesuk, a 14-year-old from Nunavut, learns about produce in the healing garden.

Blair Gable

To create dishes with less salt, sugar and fat that visitors to the cafeteria would still want to eat, Wiseman, a 15-year veteran at CHEO, had to get creative. With a new emphasis on homemade meals, he’s been able to make dishes that are delicious and health-conscious.

“The good thing about this is I can control the amount of sugar, carbs and salt in my recipes,” he says.

Last summer, the cafeteria partnered with a dietitian at the hospital to adapt some of Wiseman’s cafeteria meals for patients dealing with eating disorders. The trial program was launched in the fall.

Patients in the program are served Wiseman’s dishes, modified to accommodate allergies and specific caloric needs. “We’re not about feeding, we’re about nourishing and healing,” Wolf says.

Wiseman serves mussels in a white wine and cream sauce in the hospital cafeteria.

Blair Gable

Food served to hospital patients plays a clear, if often underappreciated, role in healing.

A study conducted by the Canadian Malnutrition Task Force in 2013 linked food to patient recovery. The study found patients from 18 hospitals across eight provinces ate less than half of the food served to them, which predicted a longer length of stay. Part of the problem, according to the study, was that food served simply wasn’t desirable.

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When patients are served food they actually like, they’re more likely to eat it.

“The kids love it. That’s why we’ve decided to expand to the rest of the hospital,” Wolf says. They expect to start rolling out the program, unit by unit, before the end of the year.

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