5 tips for making an enjoyable Christmas dinner in the hospital


Thinkstock | Brandon Laufenberg

Thinkstock | Brandon Laufenberg

It’s Christmastime. There’s no need to be afraid…that you won’t get a decent meal.

You’re stuck in the hospital on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Even if you don’t celebrate the holiday, it can be a rough time to be in the mood for a meal. Cafeteria staff get the day off, even if you don’t, and so you have to make do with what’s in the vending machines in the basement.

I maintain, after (mumble) years working as a nurse, that every person should have a number of things available to eat that only require the addition of hot water. Even if that’s not you, we can still work out a way for you to be fed during the Christmas season.

1. Don’t overlook what patients’ families bring in. Desserts are plenty, and some far-thinking individuals even order deli sandwiches for the staff during this time. The trick is knowing which floor the food is delivered to. Make friends in other units; it’ll stand you in good stead.

2. Always, always bring your own butter, mayonnaise and mustard during the season. It’ll help make anything more palatable. Even, yes, the turkey sandwiches that come from the patient food service and are delivered at 0300. (Remember: Take two sandwiches and mash the insides together. Your life will be better.)

3. Cup o’ Soup, regardless of the brand, can usually be had from a decent vending machine. This is a great way to start a scratch meal. Fill the cup three-quarters full and nuke it, and pretend the freeze-dried peas that didn’t reconstitute entirely are delicacies from the American Midwest.

4. If your vending machine has sandwiches or White Castle, you’re in luck. Mix up that chicken salad with a little mustard and you’ve got something that’s actually edible. White Castle burgers are a favorite of hospital vendors, since they’re the same whether they’re fresh, out of a machine or from a Pharaoh’s tomb. Make sure you take the meat out of one and put it into the other burger. Otherwise, it’s a white bread apocalypse.

5. I’m a big fan of the smorgasbord approach to holiday dinners: protein from the cafeteria’s delivery, vegetables from whatever source you can find (tip: salads pack well and require minimal refrigeration) and dessert from whatever’s there. If worse comes to worst, Slim Jims, peanuts and a granola bar can substitute for the first two categories.

Whatever you eat during this time, remember: It’s still better than a puréed, low-salt, carb-controlled diet. You’re on the right side of the bed, and you can always snack when you get home. That’s a heck of a gift to have.

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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