Learning the Food Service Ropes at UNC Hospital

Gooooooood morning!

I love that almost no one else knew about slicing Brussels sprouts, either! Here’s to all of us eating delicious sprouts from now on :) I think next time I will also try slicing them in half — a lot of people recommended that, too, both to decrease cooking time and increase the amount of the sprout that gets a nice golden crust!


Anyway! I have to share my Tuesday afternoon with all of you! If you’re just tuning in, I’m currently enrolled in UNC’s Masters of Public Health in Nutrition, which will give me all the coursework and internships I need to prepare me to take (and hopefully pass) the Registered Dietitian exam. I’m in my second semester and will be done in December 2012 :)

As I mentioned earlier, we have internship hours to do as part of our Food Service class, and on Tuesday we were back in the UNC hospital kitchens! Last time we were in there we were making my black bean burgers, and this time we got to help with lunch preparations! Hair nets were back in action again, don’t worry. ;)


It was really interesting — we were each assigned to a food service employee and got to help them build their patient trays and then bring the trays up to the patients themselves for lunch! UNC has a portable computer entry system that the employees use to input what the patients want to eat, and it spits out a ticket for the employees to use later as a reference. The tickets also include information about any special diet the patient might be on — low sodium, carbohydrate control for diabetics, etc. If they try to input something the patient can’t have (i.e. if they are on a low sodium diet and try to get ham or something), it will kick it out of the system. Pretty cool! I was impressed with the amount of medical jargon that the employees had to know, too.



The main plates with hot food on each lunch tray go into a heated base with a cover, which will keep it warm for up to 45 minutes. The rest of the food (drinks, any cold sides they requested, etc.), just go out in the open on the tray. Once all the lunch trays were assembled, we took them up to the patients! Each employee is assigned a specific floor/area, and the carts we were using held about 35 trays. The floor we were on was the one that housed a lot of the really sick patients, so we had to put gloves on every time we went into someone’s room to deliver their lunch, then throw them away before leaving the room and wash our hands when we came out. I felt sad for the people in there… I hope they get better soon :( The lady I was shadowing says she always smiles really big when she walks into their rooms because it just might make their days. How sweet is that?

Once we were done delivering, we got to taste test the food ourselves! Here’s what was on the menu for lunch on Tuesday — BBQ chicken, potatoes, and roasted carrots.


Patients can also order things like sandwiches and salads if they prefer that instead, and there’s a ton of other cold sides, too, like fruit, dessert, etc.

Here’s the “heart healthy” version of the lunch for people whose conditions require it (although I think we should give everyone this version!) — boneless skinless BBQ chicken, lower fat mashed potatoes, and steamed veggies.


I actually liked the heart healthy chicken better than the regular one! Both were tasty, though.

We also got to try an entirely pureed version of the meal, for patients who are having trouble swallowing or need really soft food.


Yes, that is pureed meat!!! It was (not surprisingly) pretty gross and scary, not gonna lie. I just couldn’t handle the weird texture! I think if I had to eat pureed food I would not want meat! But, I get that having a normal looking meal would be comforting to some of the patients. They also had a really soft chopped meat in broth that was way better.

See that corn? It’s pureed, too, and then put into a mold to look more like regular corn! It tasted exactly like sweet creamed corn, which I’m not a fan of, but if you were it would be a great substitute!


We also got some salad, fruit, etc. I was impressed with the food — UNC is doing a good job :) I think this was my favorite of the internship hours so far because it was so interesting to get some hands on experience both in the kitchen and up on the patient floors!

I’m off to class — have a wonderful day, friends!


  1. 1

    When I was in the hospital a couple weeks ago, they served me a kind of gross looking turkey sandwich, strawberry apple sauce, sugar-filled juice, and graham crackers. I ate only the crackers. It was a sad state of affairs!

    • 2

      Yuck, that is sad! I was really impressed to see that UNC had decent food! Our professor is the head of food services and has done a great job improving the food here.

  2. 3

    I did have the same issue with the broussel sprouts and tried them again sliced last night and it made all the difference…

    Looks like you had a really good day at your internship.

  3. 5

    I get the feeling I wouldn’t eat much if I could only have pureed food. I don’t even like smoothies. The only things I’d live off of would be chocolate pudding and hummus. Actually, that doesn’t sound so bad.

  4. 7

    This is such an awesome post because this is exactly what I do at my new job! I’m a sophomore undergrad Nutri-Sci PreDieteticis major at UW and figured it would be a good job to learn experience. Actually a woman I work with told me the dietetics interns had to do our job for a day and look you did! Glad you had fun!

  5. 9

    Wow – that pureed corn and meat looks crazy! Recently started reading your blog – love it!

  6. 10

    Yeah, I think I’d skip the pureed meat too. My friend broke her jaw snowboarding, and the poor thing had her jaw wired shut for 6 weeks! She says she can’t stand the thought of smoothies or yogurt anymore :(

  7. 11

    Very interesting! The first two meals look very tasty. Now, that pureed meat, yeah, I’d stick with the veggies, lol. I love that they put the corn in a mold, though! That’s so cute. :)

  8. 12

    Wow, puree of chicken would NOT be my first choice either! Your internship sounds–and looks–so fascinating. Thanks for taking us into the kitchen with you! And you’re totally right about brussel sprouts–they’re even tastier when you slice them in half before you roast them. They get crunchy and really flavorful. I usually slice them in half, spray them with cooking spray and sprinkle with salt + pepper + cumin + chili powder, and then let them roast at 400 for about 30-40 minutes. Perfection! :)

  9. 13

    pureed meat?!?!?! oh man haha

  10. 14

    For over a year I worked extra hours as a patient sitter (someone who stays with patients who can’t be left alone for whatever reason). It was very interesting to be on the floor with the regular hospital staff. I worked frequently with nutritional services ordering patient meals and snacks. We had to learn about the various diets and what types of foods were available on them. It was fun but could be challenging when a patient didn’t want to eat what was available to them. Glad you enjoyed your time.

    • 15

      I bet! We had a couple patients yesterday who were like, “I don’t know why they gave me this because I don’t want it”, or, “But I wanted to order the ____!”

  11. 16

    Wow!! I LOVE the fact the pureed food is molded into a recognizable form!!! When I worked in the hospital with patients using adapted feeding equipment and were on a modified diet, it was always a mystery what the food was. Who likes to eat something when they don’t know what it is?!

  12. 17

    I remember when my dad was getting his masters in public health @ UNC(GO HEELS!) and he had his internship at the hospital my mom would take me to visit and we would eat dinner there. I was 4 so I don’t know what I had, but I do remember feeling like we were in a very large restaurant and loving that I got to have 2 pudding cups. I now know they were sugar free, but it counts!

  13. 18

    This is so interesting and cool to see! I have been “day-dreaming” about going back to school for Nutrition…maybe and R.D. but it seems like so much, especially since I have an established career that I actually like (but probably won’t forever because the hours and work are very demanding). I’d love to look more into it, and your posts (and story) really helps to see what is involved! I live in the DC area…are there any good schools that you know of close-by? Why did you chose NC?

  14. 20

    Oh my gosh, your brussels sprouts post was hilarious! I just read it. I do cut the ends off, mostly because they look gross. And I’m sort of 50-50 when it comes to slicing them in half lengthwise. I think I usually do. Depends how motivated I am.

    I <3 brussels sprouts!!!

  15. 21

    Please Lord, no pureed food for me, please.
    Love your hair net

  16. 22

    I am sort of horribly grossed out by the pureed food. I mean, I know some people are on those sort of diets, but I never pictured hospitals making the purees food shaped..eeeekk.

    Besides that, I wanted to comment and tell you that your internship looks really fun!

  17. 24

    I’m envious of how good you look in a hair net.

  18. 25

    Hair nets be sexy :D.

  19. 26

    The corn mold is clever but it sure doesn’t make it look anymore appetizing! lol. I totally agree about everyone getting the “heart healthy” option. Why not prevent heart disease for the people who don’t have it yet! :)

  20. 27

    Fascinating post. Thanks! And good thinking on everyone going to the the healthy side, vice the dark side! And, yes, that hair net is soooo attractive!

  21. 28

    wow what an honorable thing. Food is such an important aspect of healthy life, so a person’s diet should never have to suffer because of an illness!

  22. 29

    I’ve pretty much spent everyday and night working in a hospital, yet never liked the food because the “healthy” is NOT that healthy (nor tasty)
    I would suggest leaving off all that MSG filled sugary BBQ sauce thats has no nutritional value and substitute it for like a olive oil lemony sauce, or even just a Cajun or Mushroom dry rub?
    (something low carb)

    I always noticed how overweight hospital staff are from having to eat the cafeteria food..they cover it with carbs and fats to make it taste better (ugh!)
    I always brought my own healthy food, or “ordered in” a healthy alternative.
    (so glad not to be eating hospital food anymore)
    In addition, I made sure I “ran” to the hospital so I can get my Cardio in before 5:30am rounds

    btw LOVE the hairnet, it’s totally “HOT!”

    However, I

  23. 31

    That is my EXACT job at my hospital. So cool to read your experience on it :) The computer system sounds awesome. We go to each patient’s room, get their order, and write it down. So we have to manually count carbohydrates and decide if food is okay to give a patient based on it’s nutrition content. It’s often a pain to look up if a food is high in a certain nutrient (such as potassium or phosphorus, etc). Luckily, our hospital and cafeteria food are very very delicious. We have excellent chefs! ;-)

  24. 33

    Anne, thanks for this post! My grandma lives in a skilled nursing facility where the residents are served some pretty great meals — not at all what I would have expected. I never really pondered the complexity of preparing meals for folks with varying dietary needs — low sodium, low fat, low sugar, low fluid, pureed/processed. Pair this along with the pickiness that seems to go along with aging people…whew!

    After this post, I need to make mashed potatoes tonight. ^_^

  25. 34
    Jessica says:

    This is super awesome! I am too doing a Food Service Internship for my Bachelors though. I am super excited to follow you and your experiences as I do similar things as well. =) good luck!!

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