Readers' photos of grim hospital food
NHS hospitals have been accused of hiding patients' dissatisfaction with the standard of food. There are plenty of complaints about taste but how much is lacklustre "presentation" to blame?
Surveys of patients have found that nearly half were not happy with meals. Hospital trusts might point out the extremely tight budgets they have to work with, but campaigners say more can be done.
Readers sent in photos of examples of food they had encountered in hospitals. It's impossible to comment on taste, but here chefs offer their thoughts on the presentation of the food.
"Fish pie without fish or pie," comments reader Amanda Kirwan.
Budget constraints needn't mean poor quality food, says chef Mark Lloyd. "Price constraints and quantity of food required will sometimes affect quality, but this can so easily be fixed with a little imagination and care.
"Take this dish for example - overcooked, dry-looking sweetcorn with really badly overcooked broccoli and something that looks like potatoes and ham, with added skin. Simply fixed by adding some fresh, soft herbs and a pie crust, maybe?"
Stacy Pritchard was able to identify the following dish as "chicken".
"It looks like it has eczema. It looks like it's cold. I wouldn't touch it," says Matt Tebbutt, chef, TV presenter and restaurant owner.
"It's just horrible looking, isn't it? I'd rather just drink milkshakes and take vitamin pills if this was my only alternative source of nutrition. It would be interesting to compare this with what prisoners get served."
Food writer and stylist Mary Cadogan thinks this dish's appearance could be easily improved.
"A simple coating of honey and soy sauce before roasting would add colour and flavour."
Helen Sleight offers no information about the nature of the following dish.
"I was trying to work out what this was," says Tebbutt. "It looks like it might be tripe. Presumably they serve this to give you the motivation to get better and leave hospital.
"I really can't believe that in this day and age that's what they're serving up. I don't know what the hospital's budget is, but however much they have to spend they can do better than this."
"A starting point would be trying to add something green," adds restaurant entrepreneur Sarah Willingham. "There's not a single fresh vegetable. Millions of families in the UK live off extremely tight budgets and many still manage to eat healthier than in our hospitals."
Next is a rather minimalist looking dish identified only as "breadcrumbed something".
"I think it must be chicken, turkey or pork escalope," says Lloyd. "The mash looks gluey and overworked, which makes it feel horrible when you eat it, the meat has obviously been kept in a hot cupboard and the crumb looks soggy. No sauce or vegetables makes the whole thing look unappetising and grey."
Hannah Kaye took this picture of another minimalist dish - baked potato with a side order of carrots, peas and a single kernel of sweetcorn.
"Where's the protein here?" asks Cadogan. "Some grated cheese and pickle or a dollop of chilli would cheer this up no end. And tinned diced carrots? Surely a few freshly cooked veg would not be too much to ask?"
Next, some partially incinerated/partially overboiled broccoli.
"Look at the broccoli," says Tebbutt. "It looks like it has been boiled so hard all the vitamins have come out. I can only guess that it's been made first thing in the morning and then served up later.
"It really isn't that hard to cook broccoli but they don't seem to have managed it."
Although, judging by the next image broccoli is actually quite hard to get right.
"Far too much sauce for the pasta," suggests Cadogan. "I can almost taste the slime. Overcooked broccoli looks and smells unpleasant - stir frying is the way to go here."
The fast food-type items can also underwhelm.
"I cant tell what this is! Is it a pie or a horrific pizza? Either way not good," says Lloyd.
A basic presentational issue is the size of the plate, accentuating the lack of accompaniments.
"Looks as if it's overcooked and has been kept warm for hours. A big crunchy salad on the side would add texture and give it some life," says Cadogan.
And finally, a dish from a private hospital - braised duck in a red wine jus.
"That looks like a proper restaurant dish to me," says Tebbutt. "It looks really rather nice. You can tell it's been properly cooked. I'd quite happily eat it.
"It just goes to show that there's no reason why hospital food shouldn't be edible."