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The hospital offers a variety of fresh salads, house-roasted turkey or ham sandwiches and wraps, fruit and yogurt parfaits, and housemade trail mix and granola to patients during hours when the full menu isn’t available.

County hospital improves night intakes with house-made packaged meals

The kitchen stocks refrigerators in nurses’ stations daily with fresh-made sandwiches, salads, parfaits and more.

The kitchen at Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County in Wyoming closes at six-thirty every evening and doesn’t start serving food again until seven o’clock the next morning. But if the hospital admits a patient during those nighttime and early morning hours—or any other time the kitchen doesn’t have their regular menu available—nurses can still access healthy food for their patients.

According to Malcolm McInnis, regional director with Unidine, the hospital stepped up their off-hours food options a little more than two months ago.

They made changes, in part because nurses were having challenges stabilizing patient’s blood sugar levels. “They need something real quick.”

Nurses likes the new options because, unlike the after-hours meals they served formerly, these meals don’t cause spikes in blood sugar levels. Patients like the meals because they’re tasty and fresh.


A member of the hospital nutritional staff stocks patient refrigerators in nurses’ stations every afternoon.

The hospital staff makes these options daily in their own kitchen. One staff member spends an hour or two per day preparing and packaging them. Using the kitchen’s nutrition database, they print the name of the item along with nutritional information on simple, clean labels that Unidine sources from a supply company. The overlapping style of the label doubles as tamper-proof packaging, a must, McInnis says, in the Covid era.

“You can immediately tell if it’s been opened before,” he notes. “If it’s not sealed, do you really know if somebody’s opened it or not? You need to make sure everything you sell out there is sealed and not just closed.”

A guest services representative, who interacts with patients by taking their food orders and delivering meals, stocks patient refrigerators in all four of nurses’ stations once per day. They stock the refrigerators every day at around two o’clock p.m.

With fresh meals at their fingertips, the nursing staff can quickly, informally and safely provide patients with food that tastes better and is better for them.

Before they launched this effort, after-hours options for late intakes consisted of processed snacks and underwhelming meal options.

“Access to desired foods improves the comfort of the patient and promotes healing,” McInnis says. Nurses “wanted something that was more enjoyable for the patient and more fresh. People associate fresh with good and fresh with healthy. And when you open up a pack of crackers or a frozen meal or a plain sandwich, it’s just not the same. So, really, it goes with creating a healthy environment and a safe environment.”

They offer fresh salads, including a chef’s salad, a tossed salad and a smaller side option. Their low-sodium turkey or ham sandwiches are served on whole wheat or gluten-free bread. They use no processed or pre-sliced meats; they oven-roast and slice both the turkey and the ham themselves. Sandwiches are sometimes assembled as wraps.

They also have snacks available, including fruit cups, fruit and yogurt parfaits and house-made trail mix and granola cups.

They came up with charcuterie board boxes specifically to give nurses a way to stabilize blood sugar levels quickly. It’s the most popular item, by far. Since the inception of the program, they've served 100 of the charcuterie board boxes out of more than 330 packaged items overall.


Their charcuterie board box, developed to help nurses stabilize patient blood sugar levels, is their most popular item.

The kitchen created a fixed menu so they would be able to more easily provide meals that will meet the nutritional needs of a wide variety of patients. Only the berries in the fruit cups and parfaits rotate, based on availability.

They intentionally limit the options, in fact, to be sure that popular, heart-healthy choices are always available. Early in the process, they decided they wouldn’t provide tuna or chicken salad sandwiches, for instance, because nurses indicated that these aren’t typical patient requests. Sandwiches do come with or without lettuce and tomato so nurses can cater choices to patient nutritional needs.

The meals are expressly for patients admitted to the hospital and for emergency room patients.

Since the program is so new, they haven’t made many changes so far, though McInnis says that they did change the meat in the charcuterie board box at one point and adjusted the quantities that they stock in the refrigerators. They’re also moving away from carbonated beverages.

Eventually, they’d like to incorporate fresh smoothies into the mix, but since they separate after four or five hours, they haven’t done so yet. But McInnis says they’re working on it.

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