If you’re a vegan, you probably spend time musing about how you’d find vegan vittles when you’re away from home or thrust into an unfamiliar living situation. Here’s a poser: How do you get a vegan meal in a situation where you’re not in control of the food preparation? Like, say, if you’re in the hospital?
Never fear – it can be done. If your food is not dictated by your physician and you are in charge of your own meal choices, you can do a lot of things to keep your diet on the vegan path. Pre-planning and investigation, where possible, are key.
1. Find a Hospital Geared to Your Needs
First, do you have a choice of hospitals? Quality of care always comes first, but assuming you can choose among roughly equivalent hospitals in this regard, you may have some options. For example, hospitals run by Seventh Day Adventists will be a good bet to have a decent vegetarian menu available, since vegetarianism is a tenet of that faith. It’s easy to veganize what’s already vegetarian. Additionally, larger hospitals in metro areas tend to cater to a wider set of dietary needs.
2. Investigate the Hospital Food Ahead of Time
Whether you can choose your hospital or not, unless you have an emergency situation, you can do a little pre-emptive investigation before your procedure date. First, do a fast check of the hospital’s web site. You may find enough information there to know how easy it will be to get a vegan meal.
If you’re still not sure, call the hospital and ask to speak to the dietitian or food service supervisor. Ask about their inpatient vegan and vegetarian meal options.
If you happen to be visiting a friend at the hospital where you’re most likely to go if you get sick, try to arrive around meal time. Ask the folks handing out the dinner trays about vegan options and see what they say.
3. Do Some Sleuthing for Nearby Restaurants Offering Vegan Fare
Perhaps you want a backup plan in case you have a bit of trouble getting something vegan for lunch or dinner? Check the restaurants that are near the hospital to see what vegan or veganizable meals could be brought in by family or friends. Chances are you’ll find a few things that will work for you.
4. Bring Vegan Snacks or Portable Food With You
As a vegan, you probably already keep vegan-friendly snacks in your cubicle at work or stuffed into a handbag or briefcase for emergencies. Just extend this practice to your upcoming hospital stay. Think of portable vegan munchies you could keep in your room and bring them with you.
Need some ideas? Bring things like a jar of peanut butter and loaf of vegan bread, nutrition bars, fresh or dried fruit, canned soup — anything that needs no refrigeration and is easily carried.
In the Hospital
5. Note Your Dietary Needs at Check-In
Hospitals have to pay attention to the needs of patients with food allergies and to requests for kosher meals. As you fill out the myriad forms when you arrive at the hospital, don’t gloss over the question on dietary restrictions. Make yours known. Hospitals are used to dealing with specialized dietary needs.
6. Talk to the Staff Dietitian
Often, when you arrive in your patient room, the hospital dietitian visits to discuss your nutritional needs. Take advantage of this opportunity to discuss your desire to have nutritious vegan-friendly meals. If the dietitian doesn’t visit personally, ask the staff to request that he or she come to talk with you. The dietitian will want to ensure your meals aren’t at odds with your doctor’s orders, so it’s a good idea to be sure your doctor is aware that you are vegan and won’t countermand your dietary choices.
7. Ask to See the Vegan / Vegetarian Menu Choices
When someone on staff first discusses your meal choices with you, ask to see the vegetarian/vegan selections, which may not be on the standard menu. What you may find is that there are vegetarian, but possibly not vegan menu options — or maybe not even that. Don’t panic, though. Vegetarian can be veganized, and there are enough safe foods on even a regular menu that can be made to work. Ideas include:
- Breakfast – Oatmeal, fruit cup, banana or other fresh fruit, orange juice, coffee/tea
- Lunch – Salad (greens and any veggies they have on hand, with balsamic vinegar dressing), fruit, steamed veggies, potato (baked, mashed, fries – if made without butter/dairy), vegetable soup/broth
- Dinner – Salad again, rice and beans (maybe wrapped in a tortilla), vegetable soup/broth, steamed veggies (get a double order), veggie stir fry, veggie tortilla wrap, oatmeal, fresh fruit, fruit cup
8. Food From Home
Bringing in outside food happens all the time. It’s just that it’s usually McDonald’s pseudo-food that people sneak past the nurse’s desk, not tempeh stir fry. If you have supportive friends or family that can bring in a vegan meal or two from home, you’re golden.
9. Get Someone to Swing By the Hospital’s Food Court
Many hospitals have vegan options in their food courts now. I can personally vouch for the fact that you’ll find several vegan choices at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. The larger your metro area, the more likely the in-hospital restaurants and snack joints will cater to vegan visitors.
Do you have one of those smartphone apps that will tell you what’s vegan at various restaurants? They can also help you in this situation. Either way, ask a friend or family member to pop down to the various eateries around the hospital campus and see what they have on hand. You never know what you’ll find.
If all else fails, remember that a lot of hospitals have a Subway restaurant in their food courts. Get someone to run down and order you a Veggie Delite sub on regular Italian bread. That combination is indeed vegan. Pile on the veggies and chow down. Not a gourmet meal, but it’ll get you by.
See? Maintaining a vegan diet while in the hospital is not such a nightmare after all. Like every other eating experience, a vegan just needs to be prepared. Work with your doctor and dietitian to ensure that your inpatient vegan meals remain nutritionally balanced so you’ll recover as quickly as you should.