Enhanced Food Service Supports Hospitalized Children July 11, 2007

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When it comes to food , children are notoriously hard to please, and thats every day when they are eating at home with their families. When they are hospitalized, youthful appetites often vanish altogether. The challenge then becomes how to provide whatever the child wants whenever the child is willing to eat it.

"Being in hospital stressful for children," says Robert Walsh, RN, senior director of nursing for Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas . "From their perspective, it represents a total loss of control. Whatever allows them to have some independence and control in their lives is positive."

That's why he and other clinical staff are enthusiastic about the new food service operation at Dell Children's.

At Your Request Room Service Dining

In collaboration with Sodexho Healthcare Management Services, designers of the new pediatric facility completely changed the approach.

"We have introduced room service as the style of meal service for patients," says Area General Manager, Judi Bork. "We will operate a separate kitchen from 7 a.m. through 6:30 p.m. where the children can make selections from an in-room menu, place an order with an operator and have a meal of choice delivered to their room - like a hotel."

Sodexho has introduced At Your Request Room Service Dining elsewhere across the country and found it contributes to higher patient satisfaction, enhancing the patient experience while in the hospital.

Capitalizing on the wireless interconnectivity throughout the new facility, dietary restrictions for individual patients can be entered into the patient's chart and that information becomes available to the food service operators so they will know the correct diet for each patient. Communication also allows the kitchen to notify the nursing staff in the event a patient did not place an order for a particular meal. But best of all, parents can order whatever their child will eat whenever he or she is hungry.

"As long as the order is within the limits allowed by the child's physician,they can choose when and what to eat. When children don't feel good, they sometimes don't want to eat at all. Or they only want hot dogs. As long as they physician okays it, they can order hot dogs at any time," continues Robert.

Dell Children's Food Choices

The colorful, child-friendly menu explains how the service works, available service hours and provides guidance about ordering for patients. The Kids Food Pyramid that provides details about recommended food servings is also included. Spanish translations are available for Spanish-speaking families.

Inside, menu choices include all-day breakfast items, entrees like grilled chicken and baked fish, vegetables and snacks, desserts, build your own deli selections, soups, and grilled favorites such as hamburgers, chicken nuggets or grilled cheese. Pastas include Spaghetti-Os, ravioli, and macaroni & cheese. A balance of healthy choices, along with those items kids most frequently want to eat are included to ensure they find something they like when they are hungry.

"In the pediatric population, food is about getting enough calories into kids to make them happy and well enough to go home," says Judi.

"The menu is much more child-friendly," adds Robert. "The service is much more like a restaurant and removes a little bit of the hospital environment. It's good for children psychologically and gives them back a little more control."

Being able to order the foods children want also eliminates waste of food. With trained room service hosts delivering trays directly to most patients, nurses can spend more time caring for their patients.

"Now if Johnny wants a hamburger at two in the afternoon, he can have it," continues Robert. "Before, he would have had to wait until suppertime. This also is a benefit to the nursing staff because we no longer have to worry about passing out trays. Besides, having dietary staff coming up to deliver food and adds another personal touch that provides a more positive experience."

If family members wish to dine with their child, meal vouchers can be purchased from food services so they can also order food and have it delivered to their childs room. Staff encourage parents to take breaks while a child is sleeping and eat in the cafeteria, which was designed to provide a comforting and relaxing atmosphere.

'Thyme Out' - Literally

Consistent with efforts throughout Dell Children's to use the healing properties of nature to help relax stress, Thyme Out was designed to be very open and close to green areas. The dining room is located on the first floor of Dell Children's.

"This is fabulous space for families and staff, with the dining area located between two courtyards. One of the areas includes outdoor eating space overlooking the multi-story waterfall. We encourage everyone - family members of patients and all associates who work here to take advantage of this peaceful and relaxing space," adds Judi.

Long lines have been reduced by creating food service stations including pizza selections, a short-order grill, a madeto-order station, salad bar and a build-your-own-sandwich deli.

Serving the Community

Dell Children's has numerous meeting rooms, and many of the Seton Family of Hospitals Leadership and Network offices will move into an adjacent office building in the near future.

"We know that this campus will host a lot of meetings and training for the organization and that we will be catering a lot of on-site events," adds Judi. She has hired a chef with catering expertise to support the growth of future events.

"We believe everyone who comes to this campus, whether as a patient, a visitor or staff will have a positive dining experience," concludes Judi.

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