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An open letter to the hospital cafeteria

Shutterstock | Sean Locke Photography
Shutterstock | Sean Locke Photography

Dear Hospital Cafeteria People:

Thank you all for your dedicated service over the years. You’ve filled the bellies of countless hospital employees, family members of patients and various random people who have wandered in off the street. Day in and day out, you provide semi-recognizable foodlike substances with at least three different flavor profiles. Once or twice a month, you bestir yourselves to offer a “theme cuisine”—always a huge hit, especially if you have a fondness for “taco bowls” or “stir fried pan-Asian something-or-other.”

Nevertheless, there is room for improvement. Please take these suggestions in the spirit they’re offered: that of a hungry nurse who only wants to be able to identify what’s on the steam table.

  1. The best thing that ever happened to our hospital was the influx of folks from south Louisiana. The staff got friendlier, the cooking improved…but you don’t use their talents enough. Please, please have a Cajun-themed day more than once a year on Mardi Gras.
  2. Ditto the people working in your kitchen who are from places like India and Thailand. Let them get out from under the huge bags of precooked industrial food once in a while and shine. Some of the best Indian food I’ve had in years came on the one day you let a chef go nuts and make naan from scratch.
  3. Desserts are important psychological props. Sugar-free premixed apple and peach cobbler-adjacent substances are not dessert. Bring back the chocolate and Italian cream cakes, or at least the banana pudding on Fridays.
  4. Truth in advertising will prevent disappointment. “Crispy-fried catfish with hushpuppies” should be what it claims to be. Instead, you serve something blandly breaded and soggy with what can only be described as a Yankee’s version of a hushpuppy. Baked. Don’t do that.
  5. No apple should cost a buck twenty-five. Stop it. Your mother would be ashamed of you.
  6. If you can’t tell the meat entrée from the vegetables, it’s time to rethink your meal planning. Gravy is not a cure-all.
  7. Spinach should never be semi-liquid.
  8. Please consider bringing back the prepackaged sushi. Real sushi fans wince at that stuff, but I love it.
  9. Instant coffee is not now, has never been and will never be real coffee, no matter how many faux-French words you slap on the container. And we nurses need our coffee.
  10. Please don’t ever stop serving the chicken soup. It’s the best.


Agatha Lellis

Agatha Lellis is a nurse whose coffee is brought to her every morning by a chipmunk. Bluebirds help her to dress, and small woodland creatures sing her to sleep each night. She writes a monthly advice column, "Ask Aunt Agatha," here on Scrubs; you can send her questions to be answered at

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3 Responses to An open letter to the hospital cafeteria

  1. onlyme

    Well, I agree about a lot of the items, but as for coffee: gave up years ago! Just think what giving up coffee would do for you!

  2. jshana

    Thank you for posting this letter. It got me thinking about something that has been bothering me for some time now. I’ve worked as a CNA and have done my clinicals in long term and hospital settings as a nursing student. I should also state that I retired from the Navy after 20+ years. I’ve cared for my elderly patients, brought them their meals and helped feed them. What I can’t understand is why they are fed so poorly and what can we do to help correct this major deficiency in their care. If they were fed quality meals, every time, as if they were at a restaurant where the quality and taste of the meals depended on whether they remained in business. Don’t they deserve that? Why does it come down to how much money they have to pay out. Or the kitchen staff that make about the same as fast food restaurants. I should be able to identify every item on their tray and tell them when they ask.
    When they eat well and have a great tasting meal, they have a better day, their weight is better maintained and managed, they can sleep better, and their quality of life is improved. I want to be a very good nurse and know that I am doing my very best to look out for their well being and care. However, I feel that there needs to be something that we can do as a whole to fix this problem. I’ve had many bad meals in my time in the service, but I would gladly eat an MRE than eat some of the meals our elderly have to deal with. I would appreciate your suggestions.

    • onlyme

      You highlight an important issue. I’ve heard comment along the lines of what you are saying also.