Guest Blogger: Andrea on In-Patient Nutrition

I am very excited about PWN's guest blogger today! Meet Andrea Otteson. Andrea is a nursing student and we met last year at the wedding of our mutual friends, Andrea and David Mitchell. She is a great person and an amazing nurse, and she happens to be very passionate about nutrition for pediatric patients. I don't know much about this, but I do know that nutrition in hospitals is not the best. I have classmates who have been hospitalized for things like cancer or surgery, and during recovery are fed things like jello cups and soda. These are NOT foods that support or promote healing, and if anything they are likely to make the patient feel even worse! Anyway, I asked Andrea to just give some of her thoughts on this issue because I think it's so important and people like her experience it firsthand every day. Thanks, Andrea!

In-Patient Nutrition for Hospitalized Children: Reflections from a Nursing Student

With so much press devoted to America’s obesity epidemic among children, it seems fundamentally counterintuitive that hospitalized children are allowed to order nutritionally bankrupt food throughout their hospital stay. From my perspective as a student-nurse in clinical rotations, ‘nutritionally bankrupt’ describes the cheeseburgers, tater tots and personal pizzas gracing the pediatric hospital menus with which I have become well acquainted.

Hospitalized children have so many freedoms intrinsically taken away to begin with. The last thing I want to do as a nurse is tell these kids they can’t choose what they want to eat for lunch. Or, as it would more likely play out, tell them what they can’t eat “riiight after this quick shot…!” As a nurse-to-be, I realize that patient education and guidance are part of my job description, but in the showdown between cold turkey sandwiches with carrots v. grilled cheese with fries, I am left somewhat powerless.

Ideally, I would like to work in a hospital where Alice Waters-inspired homemade chicken noodle soup and slow roasted organic vegetables were menu options. However, given today’s healthcare climate, I am unsure how to effectively lobby for these changes. Perhaps as a starting point, hospitals could begin stacking the deck in favor of healthy food choices by designing menus allowing for only one ‘nutritionally bankrupt’ item per meal (or better yet, per day). Thus, returning to the aforementioned showdown, our patient could order 1) a turkey sandwich with fries or 2) a grilled cheese with carrots, but would not be allowed the combination of fries AND grilled cheese. Still a long ways away from organic, herb-crusted vegetables, but it’s a start!

Ultimately, good nutrition, like good health, is about the day-to-day. Though far from impossible, institutional change takes time and costs money. So in the meantime, this future nurse will do her best to help steer obligate junk-foodies down healthier pathways.

If my future children ever get sick, I hope their doctors and nurses are thinking like you, Andrea! Oh, and for those of you who are not familiar with Alice Waters, you can read more about her here. I happen to be giving a presentation on the Slow Food Movement tomorrow in class, so I've been learning a lot about Ms. Waters and I love her thoughts on food and nutrition, and I'm dying to visit her restaurant in California someday!

Thanks again, Andrea!


  1. Love your thoughts Andrea! And I love that I got a preview this weekend...Ann, miss you and love reading your blog as usual :)

  2. p.s. the picture didn't work...sometimes I can see them and sometimes I can't, just an FYI. Maybe it is my computer? I am trying to look at work...

  3. I am a a very health conscious vegetarian wife and mom of two teens. Recently my mother was hospitalized and my sister and I went to lunch in the cafeteria. They happened to be giving free lunch that day of turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes and corn with your choice of fountain drink. That was it. When I approached the ever smiling hospital administrator and asked whether there were any vegetarian choices or something that was on the healthier side, his response was corn, potatoes, and the iceberg lettuce salad bar. Along with this response I received a look of disbelief at my turning my nose up at a "free lunch". To further shut the door on a healthy lunch they did not even offer water for free instead of the soda. Luckily for me I tote my own everywhere I go with a refillable SIgg bottle! I opted to go without anything except my water since I always have a healthy breakfast.
    This just goes to show that the hospitals were people go to get healthy just want to keep them unhealthy along with anyone not in a hospital gown, This after all ensures future business to make even more money. Sorry for this, but I get so angry and frustrated when I see and know people make most of their own health problems and usually it is due to the perception of lesser costs, easy obtaining and laziness.

  4. I am also a student at NTI though I've never met you Ann and I work at The Children's Hospital in Denver, not in a nutrition role though :(
    A few weeks after I starting work here, I wrote a letter to our head honcho via a website they have called "Dear Jim" questioning the meals available in our cafeteria and through the inpatient ordering menus. 3 months later, I still have not recieved any response. I don't plan on letting this issue be ignored. On the upside, I have a friend who is a neurosurgery resident here and she wants to work together to develop a post surgery nutrition protocol.

  5. Hi Susanna! I cannot believe you still haven't gotten a response to your Dear Jim letter. I wonder how many similar "letters" they've received... I hope you have some luck and progress though - it's definitely an important thing to fight for. Thanks for sharing! I hope we meet soon at school!