November 10, 2000

Children’s Hospital first in U.S. to offer‘Meals on Demand’

Featured Image

Dr. Mark Wathen gives daughter Erin a ride on his shoulders at the start of this year’s American Heart Association Heart Walk. Erin was one of this year's Red Cap walkers. (photo by Dana Johnson)

Children’s Hospital first in U.S. to offer‘Meals on Demand’

The Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt will offer a unique dining system that is unlike any other hospital in the nation.

What started as a concept in a planning committee over two years ago has developed into a state-of-the-art food delivery system that puts patient and family concerns at the forefront.

Tagged Meals on Demand, the plan allows patients to order food and have it delivered to their rooms within 45 minutes. And it won’t be the typical food children might associate with a hospital. Instead, the food will be from popular franchises – food children will enjoy.

“Currently we don’t know of a food system that exists like this in the United States,” explained Jim Doran, assistant director of nutrition services. “This is a food service delivery model on the cutting edge of technology.”

A patient or family member will order different items from an in-room system (the type of in-room system has not yet been decided, however Doran said some possibilities include a television ordering system or an online computer system).

The items selected can be ordered from the same food court outlet, or many different outlets. Branded items – not yet designated – will be available in addition to a traditional menu.

A dispatch station will receive the order for the meals and will forward the information to the different food outlets in the food court.

An expediter will help with the food preparation and a nutrition services employee will deliver the food to the patient’s room. Food can be ordered anytime between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. Children will be able to eat when they are hungry, on their own schedule.

Doran said the system was completely different from the traditional delivery of hospital meals. Typically, meals are prepared in advance, placed on trays and delivered to the floors at set times during the day. It was then up to the patient care staff to pass out the trays and ensure delivery to the rooms.

“In our focus group meetings, we learned that our patients felt that the food wasn’t being delivered in a manner that was consistent with their eating patterns,” Doran said.

Another unique feature of the meal delivery system will be the addition of a breakfast cart that will circulate the hallways for two hours every morning.

“The kids will really like that because kids of different ages will want to eat at different times, depending on their needs,” said Cynthia Broadhurst, director of nutrition services.

The delivery system and associated food court design are the result of numerous meetings between nutrition services, architects, food contractors and, most importantly, members of the Pediatric Advisory Council (PAC). The PAC is made up entirely of patients from the Children’s Hospital. The Children’s Hospital Family Advisory Council, chaired by Holly Lu Conant Rees, provided valuable input from a family perspective.

“It has been very important to hear those voices,” Broadhurst said. “Jim has led the charge in satisfying the patient and family needs. It is an ongoing process.”

“You have to be a good listener,” Doran said. “When we heard that the kids wanted food they were familiar with, we thought that meant the types of food we were already serving. But as we listened and explored that concept, we found out it meant branded food like you’d find at a popular fast food restaurant.”

Another balancing act will be providing what the child wants to eat, and keeping those wants within the nutrition requirements as determined by the physician.

“This is a real challenge – finding or developing a system that will allow us to access the different types of food available for the patient and make sure that it is compliant with their diet,” Doran said.

The nine-story freestanding children’s hospital is scheduled for completion in 2003.