October 8, 2004

Child-friendly menu rolls out at VCH

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A new child-friendly menu at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt is making life a little more palatable for patients such as 2-year-old Logan Catron.
photo by Dana Johnson

Child-friendly menu rolls out at VCH

“When you are feeling bad, familiar things are better,” said Gloria Rader, grandmother to 2-and-a-half-year-old cancer patient Logan Catron.

Those words are at the heart of a major change undertaken by Nutrition Services at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. This week, families are, for the first time, getting the option of ordering room service meals, from a new child-friendly menu, delivered within 45 minutes of their call.

“We have chicken nuggets shaped like dinosaurs, and fish sticks shaped like anchors or star fish and colored blue or green,” said Karen Raffey, a registered dietitian and director of nutrition services for VCH. “We surveyed the kids when we first moved in to the new building and asked them what they would want for breakfast, lunch or dinner.”

That poll and suggestions from the Pediatric Advisory Council (PAC) led to a new menu that included food items that could be quickly prepared at the Children’s Hospital and delivered by hosts/hostesses specially trained for customer service.

“We’re starting with a pilot on the sixth floor, because those are our toughest customers,” Raffey said. “Most of the children on the sixth floor are cancer patients and they are tough little customers, they’re so sick and tend to have different food preferences throughout the day.”

On Sept. 27, hostesses went from room to room on the sixth floor, talking with parents and children about the new menu. The following morning the calls began coming in. Breakfast, lunch and dinner had gone from the traditional arrival of the “food tray cart” on a unit all at one time, to room service deliveries brought up by hosts/hostesses, fresh from the oven or microwave.

“The (PAC) came up with this original idea,” said Terrell Smith, the administrative director in charge of family centered care at Children’s Hospital.

“There was this legendary story about a teenager who brought a hamburger to a PAC meeting, and the hamburger had been re-heated twice in the microwave while he was out getting tests. As only a teen can do, he twisted the rubbery meat in front of the group, and knocked the roll on the table. Then he waved the plastic baggie around saying it looked like a piece of police evidence. He wanted to know if Pizza Hut can get a pizza to his house, hot and fresh in less than an hour, why couldn’t nutrition services do the same thing just three floors up in the same building?”

Nutrition services set to work right away to come up with a completely new system involving a new menu, and a whole new computer system for data/order entry.

“Sometimes there are doctor’s orders that might conflict with what the patient orders,” said Liz Smith, the registered dietitian with nutrition services who helped redesign the system. “And with this new system, they can order just for the next meal, or they can make choices for the whole day or even several days in advance.”

The family of Logan Catron is happy with the new menu. His mother, Iva, had become accustomed to bringing food from the outside that she knew her son would eat.

“We like the fact you can order what he likes and not get a bunch of stuff he doesn’t like that we just throw away,” said Rader.