Does Your Hospital Offer Gluten Free Meals?

Gluten sucks

If you have ever had to spend time in hospital, whether celiac related or not, what did they give you to eat? And most importantly, was it gluten free?

When you are sick, the last thing you need is to be contaminated by non gluten free food. Presumably hospitals have the resources to cater for all kinds of food allergies and intolerances, or at least they should. Hospitals should be a place where celiacs don’t have to worry as they should be surrounded by people who care and understand how important it is for us to stay strictly gluten free.

I am lucky, touch wood, to have never spent extended periods of time in hospital so I don’t have personal experience of eating there. It’s something I’ve often wondered about and after speaking to a friend last week I’m more than a little concerned. Unfortunately it doesn’t look like all hospitals cater for, or even care about, their patients serious dietary requirements.

A scary story (when there is gluten involved it’s always pretty scary!)

A friend recently told me about an experience her celiac mum had when staying overnight at a hospital in the UK. When I first heard what I’m about to tell you I could hardly believe it.

The patient (my friend’s mum) is 80 years old and was just diagnosed with celiac disease a couple of years ago. Last week she suffered a mild heart attack and was forced to spend a couple of days in hospital.

When meal time came the patient was presented with a meal consisting of ground beef and pastry. Gluten alert!! My friend told the nurse her mum was celiac and therefore required a gluten free meal. How was this little detail of her serious autoimmune disorder and her need for a special meal completely glossed over?

They were told that, NO, the hospital don’t have gluten free meals available and this is all they have. HRMMM?? This is a hospital! How can they not offer gluten free meals to patients who need them??

It gets worse.

The nurse then said to my friend in relation to her mum eating the gluten filled meal she was given, “But what difference is it really going to make anyway?” Are you kidding me?!?!?!?

So not only did this hospital not have gluten free meals available for celiac patients, the nurse looking after them seemed to think that there is nothing wrong with eating gluten filled pastry when you have celiac disease. Please tell me that this is a unique, dreadful experience and that this kind of attitude isn’t common place! I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this.

How are your experiences of eating at hospital? Were you given a safe, gluten free meal or left to fend for yourself?

Do you think hospitals should offer patients with food allergies/intolerances a safe alternative? If airlines can do it….

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  • I have been in hospital many times, thanks to Crohn’s Disease! Coeliac awareness really does vary wildly from hospital to hospital.

    In Wycombe, the menus were are clearly marked with which meals were gf and I was able to bring my own gluten free bread for breakfasts and supper. Every member of staff knew what I couldn’t eat and I felt confident in anything I was given to eat. (It should be noted that Wycombe General hospital is just down the road from Coeliac UK’s headquarters…)

    In Canterbury, I was given gluten free sandwiches at lunch, but dinners were far more hit or miss. I had to explain Coeliac to everyone who tried to bring me food and ended up eating mostly yoghurt, fruit and ice cream so I was starving by the time I went home!

  • Oi! This is one of my biggest pet peeves I’ve had to deal with when I’ve stayed in the hospital (was there due to anaphylaxis from my other food issues on top of celiac). The nurses and doctors were great (quite obviously, they didn’t want me to eat something I’m allergic to and have yet another severe reaction!), the issues I had were the food workers. They seemed to know nothing. They didn’t get the concept of that while I might be able to eat the chicken, I can’t because they cook it on the grill… which they use for everything else. Nor did they get the concept that lunch meat actually usually has a handful of ingredients that are NOT meat! And they can contain gluten or my other allergens. The last time, I was in the ICU and they call my room to ask what I want. The only 3 things I could have were an apple, canned peaches and canned pears. That was it. And when I asked about washing hands and prep surfaces and all that stuff because of my food allergies the person just coldly told me, “I know about your food allergies.”

    So, the nurses and doctors knew about my food allergies, but they probably wouldn’t have been capable of safely preparing food for me if they had safe ingredients. And the food service staff… even less. There’s quite a lack of proper training, and not only training, but actual availability of safe foods!

  • I was admitted in June to the Luton and Dunstable hospital for my ulcerative colitis and spent 3 weeks with either fish or chicken , accompanied by mash or rice. No choice and staff hadnt got a clue. Took in my own cereal and bread and my family bought food in because not only was it the same every day but it really wasnt nice. Admitted again to same hospital in september and did get a roast dinner one day but again fish or chicken everyday. One of the nurses even wrote on the menu ‘no fish or chicken’ but it made no difference. I asked the server if i could have some vegetables and she said’ i dont think you are allowed peas’. Hello i am an intelligent women who has had this condition along time !

  • Hi, just found your excellent blog as was looking for tips for flying and eating gluten/wheat free and thought i’d share my story about hospital food.

    I was admitted to hospital as an emergency case earlier this year and told them when admitted of my allergies (I’m allergic to wheat, never been tested for gluten allergy though and I do often wonder…). I was due to be operated on so was ‘nil by mouth’ at first. Then the op was cancelled and I was to have it first thing in the morning. This was around 11pm. They said I could eat if I wanted. I’d not eaten a thing since the day before so although in pain i was starving and grateful for the chance to eat. But all they could offer was a tuna sandwich or toast using regular bread! The shops in the hospital had closed by this point too. Luckily my superstar mum was with me and drove to the nearby 24hr supermarket to get me wheat free food. She really was amazing while the nurses didn’t care one bit! Following that I had to stay in hospital for a few days and I felt like I had to constantly battle to get any wheat free foods. They really didn’t seem to care. One nurse did end up helping me out and ordered me some special menu meals that were gluten free (almost always wheat free if they’re gluten free) but they pretty much consisted of mashed potatoes and veg. One day I’d chosen a cheese omelette and salad and they served it with mashed potatoes! Gross. The saving grace was the desserts as they did manage a pretty nice gluten free sponge and custard! But I don’t know what I’d have done without my family bringing me foods into the hospital.

    Absolutely ridiculous for a hospital to not be able to serve decent allergen free food if you ask me!

  • When I got my biopsy done at a hospital to test for Celiac, I came out of the anesthesia and was offered regular saltine crackers!

  • My local hospital has a totally separate gluten free menu! I’ve compared it to the regular menu and it is very similar with most of the meals being either naturally gluten free or they have a gluten free version of it. Sometimes there will be a meal that can’t be made gluten free so there’s something totally different in its place. But you get pretty much as much choice as the normal menu. I assumed all hospitals would do this! Breakfast is harder but they will send up bread or I took my own in.

  • Melissa

    Aug 21st, 2013

    All of these stories sound so familiar. I had to be in the hospital twice this past year, and both times I left the hospital sicker and glutened. The minimal and dry meals were labeled gf, but there were contamination issues. There were no gf snacks for me, so my mother delivered gf crackers and cookies. They let me use my own medication because they couldn’t guarantee that they wouldn’t poison me with the meds they use. If I have to be in again, I will bring my own food too. I was sent a survey, which I answered honestly. Hospitals need to train their entire staff about food allergies, not just the nutritionist.