Animal Aid

NIL BY MOUTH - Vegetarians in hospital

In the second section of Nil by Mouth we look at the provision of meals for vegetarians in hospital, including how meals are marked on menus, and the variety of options for veggies.

Provision for vegetarians

  • 28% of all veggies found it very easy to get appropriate food in hospital and 37% easy
  • 30% had difficulty getting veggie food and 5% said it was impossible

Around one third of veggie respondents found it either difficult or impossible to get suitable food in hospital. A key problem is that hospitals often do not seem to understand what a vegetarian diet is. Christine, who stayed in a hospital in Margate, Kent told us 'they were confused as to what a veggie ate!'

A common misconception was that veggies eat fish. On the menu of one Hampshire hospital, the lunch option of salmon and cucumber sandwich is clearly marked as vegetarian! One distraught veggie who stayed in a hospital in Croydon, Surrey told us how he was repeatedly offered fish. Equally, despite saying that they were vegetarians, some respondents were offered meat. During a stay in a Newcastle hospital, one veggie told us he was offered a pork sandwich as the veggie option! Even when a genuine veggie option was offered, it could still end up being unsuitable. Wendy, who stayed in a Rotherham hospital, told us: 'A couple of times my meal arrived with meat gravy poured all over it.'

"I was extremely disappointed with the amount of vegetarian food which was on offer to me... Before I went in, I did have initial doubts, but I expected the staff to be considerate about it. It didn't help matters because I'm 16 years old and many of the staff thought that I was being unreasonable and difficult, because I was yet another stereotyped teenager. It was only when my mother talked to the doctor that things changed. But a lot of the meals I had seemed to substitute cheese for meat. So the quality of the vegetarian food wasn't the best, to say the least."

Evelyn, who stayed in a North Staffordshire hospital

"Auxiliary staff did not understand what being veggie meant. I was offered fish repeatedly, shepherd's pie and even meat balls when I said I didn't eat meat...My partner had to bring me lots of food as I was breast -feeding my twins throughout my stay!"

Anna, who stayed in a hospital in Dudley, West Midlands

"No vegan food was offered, was told none was available, was given a corned beef roll and told I wasn't getting out until I ate it!When my partner asked them if it would be possible to get me some toast and tea instead of the corned beef roll, they told him that it was completely impossible. When I went into another hospital later, I took plenty of my own food.

Kirsteen, who stayed in a Glasgow hospital

In some hospitals, such as the one in Devon in which Joe stayed, there are no vegetarian options at all. He told us that when a veggie meal was asked for, the meat was removed from the plate and he was given what was left!

Helen who stayed in hospital in Nottingham said, 'Many days all I got that was edible was some toast and a sandwich with a bag of crisps.' Lyn told us that during her stay in a Nuneaton hospital, 'in just three days after the operation, I lost over a stone in weight'.

However, there were some hospitals that made excellent provision for veggies. Carol was delighted with the food she was given in Swansea. 'The staff were incredibly helpful and supportive. The food was imaginative and brilliantly cooked.' Similarly, Andrea told us that when she stayed in Doncaster she was 'pleasantly surprised by the variety and quality of the vegetarian meals. They were delicious!'

How veggie dishes were marked on menus

Where menus were supplied:

  • 61% marked veggie dishes clearly
  • 39% did not

Of the hospitals which provided menus, a large percentage did not mark veggie options clearly. This is despite the fact that the BHF objective is that all hospitals should have user-friendly menus that reflect the needs and the diversity of patients' dietary requirements.

We were sent one exemplary menu from Poole Hospital, Dorset. The 'Vegetarian and Ethnic Menu' has a wide variety of different veggie dishes and clearly labels which of these are suitable for vegans.

Variety of veggie meals

  • 52% of veggies said that the meals they were served in hospital were varied
  • 56% said that the meals they were offered were predominantly cheese based

Some hospitals provided an excellent array of veggie dishes. Others repeated the same veggie options day after day or even the same choice for lunch and dinner on the same day! Caz told us that she 'was in hospital [in Newcastle] for 8 days and was dished up harvest casserole at least once a day, EVERY DAY during this time'.

About half of those who responded said that the meals were predominantly cheese-based. Tina told us that during her stay in Bath '...everything was caked in cheese'. The fact that so many meals were cheese-based is particularly problematic because cheese is high in saturated fats, which are scientifically proven to raise cholesterol, thereby increasing an individual's chance of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and prostate or breast cancer. Consistently serving meals with a high cheese content is bad for patients' long and short term health.

Examples of varied veggie dishes on offer in the hospitals in which our respondents stayed


Continental breakfast: Croissants, pain au chocolate, mixed rolls, jam and marge.
Buffet style/ cooked breakfast: Tomatoes, mushrooms, egg, hash browns, baked beans.
Other: Cereal, porridge, Fruit juice, Toast.

Omelette, Mixed bean casserole, Veggie spaghetti bolognese, Veggie curry, Egg and chips, Nutty crumble, Leek and broccoli bake, Goulash, Cheese and biscuits, Pancake Rolls, Veggie bangers and mash, Lentil Pasta, Served with salad or vegetables.

Evening meal
Celery soup, Lasagne, Veggie quiche, Veggie plait, Dhal, Tomato and cheese pizza, Jacket potato with beans, Pasta bake, Veg flan, Veg Moussaka, Shepherds pie, Veg rice.

Various desserts including: trifle, rice pudding, fresh fruit, cheesecake, yoghurt and apple pie.

In the third section of Nil by Mouth, we report on the provision of meals for vegans and find that some vegans in hospital face a daily fight for food.

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