Patients are happy to order from a menu, review shows

Patient satisfaction is at an all-time high thanks to the ability to order meals from a menu, according to a one-year review of the Misericordia Community Hospital’s Covenant Cuisine program.

And food wastage has dropped since the first hospital made-to-order meal service program in Alberta launched at the Edmonton hospital in 2018.

“Patients are happier with the food and quality,” says Carol Lajoie, Corporate Director, Environmental Supports.

“There has been a 19 per cent increase in overall patient satisfaction with food services and up to a 30 per cent decrease in food waste.”

Covenant Cuisine empowers patients to make their food choices. The innovative meal program gives patients more freedom about what they can eat. Patients receive a menu customized to their dietary needs, allowing them to choose their meals.

Before the program, it wasn’t uncommon for food-laden trays to be returned to the kitchen, either because patients weren’t hungry when their meal was delivered or they didn't like some or all of the items on the tray. After Covenant Cuisine was introduced, hospital staff saw significant improvement in the amount of food being eaten—and the results continued throughout the year.

“What we are finding is that when people get the tray in front of them, they’re eating it,” says Carol. 

Letting patients choose what they want to eat offers important benefits, says Registered Dietitian Lily Pon-Mah. 

“Patients tend to eat better when they choose off a menu, because they have a choice in what they pick and they get food they like," she says. “Even for patients with allergies, there is much more variety and flexibility.”

This is the second time Alana (left) has delivered a baby at the Misericordia Community Hospital, so she has tried menu and traditional meal service. “It’s nice to have a choice in what I eat—better than a normal tray,” she says. She is pictured here with her new baby and Food Services Ambassador Nicole Packard, who is delivering a fresh soup and sandwich for lunch.

Dietary restrictions can be a challenge, says new mom Alana, who has celiac disease.

“On a gluten-free diet, my options are limited to begin with,” she says. “When I delivered my first son, I had the same meal every single day—there was only one soup that was gluten-free.”

She noticed a huge change during her hospital stay after giving birth to her second son.

“This time, there’s definitely more options, and I can choose what I want. I like that muffins are an option, I’ve had the salmon twice and it’s nice to have a choice of sandwiches,” she says.  

Chef Basu prepares pasta for a patient at the Misericordia Community Hospital. With Covenant Cuisine, patients order from a menu customized to their dietary needs, and the food is made to order by kitchen staff.

The meal program is supported by Food Services Ambassadors like Nicole Packard. Ambassadors explain the program to patients when they arrive on their units, take food orders and deliver meals.

“Patients are happy to see me,” says Nicole. “Oh, you’re the food lady! We like you!”

Jenina Mapalo, who recently gave birth to her first son, Frank, liked Covenant Cuisine’s flexibility.

“I can order through an Ambassador or use my phone to call the diet office when I’m ready,” says Jenina. “They are very helpful.”

Nicole works closely with the care team and diet office to ensure patient safety. When patients arrive in the hospital, their physician or dietitian identifies any dietary restrictions or concerns, such as diabetes or allergies. The system will not allow patients to order food that is not within their approved menu, and Nicole keeps a close eye on her patients.

“The nurses are often right behind me when I’m bringing in meals,” says Nicole. “They will help open containers, take the patient’s temperature and administer medications. It’s a whole team effort.”

Ambassadors also review a missed meal report at the end of every meal service to ensure all patients who are able to eat have received food. 

First-time mom Jenina Mapolo holds her son Frank, while her husband, Francis, brings over their freshly cooked pasta. The Mapolos enjoy the made-to-order meal service, especially new dad Francis: “I get all the leftovers!” With Covenant Cuisine, family and friends have the option to order off a guest menu and enjoy a meal with their loved one.

While the made-to-order meal program is seeing very positive results, Carol sees opportunities for future enhancements. This includes switching up the menu seasonally, opening the menu to staff and expanding Covenant Cuisine to other sites. But first, she says, is a need to fine-tune the program.

“The majority of food wastage comes from untouched trays, which tells me we have patients ordering and getting discharged or going for a test when their food arrives,” she says. “We’re working on getting new software in our call centre to help alleviate these issues.

“Giving patients control over what they want to eat is a great patient satisfier,” says Carol. 

Covenant Cuisine’s flexibility is appreciated by patients.

“It’s nice to have choice,” says Alana. “You just call and say what you want.”

Food Service Ambassador Nicole Packard’s favourite part of the job is getting to know patients like mom Alana (left). "No one wants to be in a hospital," says Nicole. "Part of my job is helping people feel comfortable and help them regain a sense of control in choosing their food.” Here, Nicole opens containers as Alana has her hands full with her new baby.

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