It was a claim many hospital patients would have sympathised with - the food was dreadful. But a woman's account of how she lost 10kg because of "inedible" meals in Palmerston North Hospital has spurred one DHB to prove its fare cuts the mustard.

Marise Murrie, 39, was in hospital last year during a difficult pregnancy. She said her miserable stay was exacerbated by a plethora of badly cooked kidney beans accompanied by overcooked vegetables, cold porridge and more kidney beans.

So it was with trepidation that I accepted an invitation from Waitakere Hospital to sample some of the fare it serves to its patients.

Hospital chef Jonathan Bullent, who worked for UK celebrity chef Delia Smith, was in charge of the food.


I wasn't expecting a four-star meal at a public hospital and I'm not fussy. But I love food and I didn't want to eat slop.

Four meals were served up in the kitchen, which pushes out 4500 a week. Joining me were two dietitians, the boss of the hospital's contract service provider and Waitemata DHB spokesman Paul Patton.

Should I feign horror? Screw up my mouth and eyes and pretend to force down the food? Smack my lips like a greedy gastrosnob? Glare at the food as if I was at a pie competition? I settle for teasing them, because it's actually pretty good.

The sausage casserole in a tomato sauce was delicious. The baked potatoes had a nice yellow colour and were soft without being overcooked.

Mr Bullent breaks open the cauliflower and broccoli pasta bake with a fork to dig in, a sign I take to mean: eat, eat!

All patients choose their meals from a menu. If I was a patient I wouldn't have picked the pasta, not up my alley. That said, it's fine. Plenty of white sauce and cheese too. Ditto for the smoked fish pie.

The rest of the hospital staff eat the beef stroganoff, another good sign. Hospital management who decide what people eat should stomach the stuff they serve up. The beef is tender and the gravy tastes rich, another winner.

Hospital dietitian Bridget Little said her team had to balance wide nutritional needs against varied tastes. Quality control was strict and they were always trying to make sure people enjoyed the food.

The importance of good food should not be underestimated when people aren't feeling well, Ms Little said.

A spokesman for Palmerston North Hospital says management believes the hospital's meal service is impressive.

Spokesman Dennis Geddis also pointed out that dietary and medical requirements for patients could not be compared to everyday eating or what went on at other institutions.

The hospital employed 10 dietitians writing menus for 23 diet codes, he said. Each day there were approximately 300 variations on the daily menu designed to suit each patient's requirements.

Sample Menu
Cereal and milk, porridge or congee
A piece of fruit
Either stewed apple, fresh fruit, prunes or fruit drink
Bread or toast with spreads


Soup and bread
A club sandwich or sausage hotpot with a green salad
Or pasta with salad
Blueberry muffin, fresh fruit


Chicken cacciatore with steamed rice or mashed potato
Or beef mince curry with rice or potatoes
Or chickpea casserole with rice or potatoes

Baked orange pudding and vanilla sauce
Or stewed or fresh fruit.