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How to Promote Caregiver Self-Care Through Hospital Dining

Visitors entering the doors of your hospital may be experiencing a variety of emotions — from being overjoyed about a new baby to being concerned about their loved one battling an illness. 

Regardless, visitors and caregivers should be welcomed to a place that values their comfort and wellbeing.

Caregivers spend a significant amount of time in your hospital. The average length of stay for a hospital inpatient is between 4 and 5 days, depending on the size of the hospital. Without wanting to leave their loved ones' sides, caregivers may rely heavily on their most convenient food option — your hospital cafeteria.

How Many People Eat in a Hospital Cafeteria?
Hospitals serve an average of 1.7 million visitors, patients, and team members annually.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


Caregivers often go through significant amounts of stress, increasing their risk for health-related concerns such as depression and chronic illness. The cafeteria in your hospital is an important — but underrated — place to help caregivers stay healthy and comfortable when they are experiencing the stress of spending days in the hospital.

There are many factors that impact a visit to your hospital cafeteria. From the food that’s served to the ambiance of the setting, caregivers should have the option to practice self-care in a place that makes them feel welcome.

Here’s how you can promote caregiver well-being through your hospital cafeteria.

When the Hospital Cafeteria Becomes Your Kitchen

Visiting a loved one in the hospital is a great way to provide support and be there for important moments. However, it can also be time-consuming. Whether caregivers are anxiously awaiting the arrival of a newborn or supporting their loved one after a surgery or treatment, hospital stays take time.

Caregivers have often been caring for their loved ones since before hospital admission. It’s common for caregivers to prioritize their love one’s health — and neglect their own.

They may even already have serious conditions, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. Only offering unhealthy food options can potentially exacerbate their conditions.

If they don’t have any serious health conditions, they may still be in the hospital for long periods of time and begin to rely on junk food for comfort, which can lead to bad habits.

Your cafeteria can be a place where healthy foods are not only an option, but they’re also convenient. Strategies to promote visitor healthy eating include:

  • Offering convenient and healthy food options, such as packaged salads, fresh fruit, or granola bars
  • Getting rid of unhealthy foods, such as trans fat or fried foods
  • Keeping healthy foods budget-friendly compared to unhealthy foods
  • Displaying nutritional information on food items  

Caregivers that eat a balanced diet in your hospital cafeteria will have a lower risk of medical issues down the road. They’ll also feel more energized and be able to more effectively manage the stress of caregiving.

The Cafeteria Experience: More Than Just Food

Nutritious food can go a long way towards feeling well. However, it’s also important to recognize the emotional stress caregivers experience every day within your hospital.

While caregivers are concerned about their loved one, they may also be balancing other responsibilities, such as working remotely or attending to finances. This can add up to a lot of stress and even depression.

Whether caregivers head to your cafeteria for a meal or simply to have a minute to themselves, there are many factors that go into making that a comfortable space.

Maintaining a Welcoming Space

A caregiver that walks into a dark and dreary cafeteria is unlikely to feel refreshed from their visit. In fact, they may feel worse than when they first walked in — and they may not want to come back.

Dark, closed-off spaces impact the chemicals the body makes. A lack of light can lead to increased production of melatonin, making visitors feel drowsy and lethargic. It can also reduce their levels of serotonin — a chemical which helps regulate mood — and may cause feelings of depression.

By increasing the amount of natural light in your cafeteria, you may drastically improve the mood of the visitors.

Other ways to meet the needs of your visitors include:

  • Providing comfortable places to sit for extended periods of time
  • Allowing access to free wifi for those who need to work remotely or want to pass the time using the internet
  • Making outlets easily accessible to recharge electronic devices
  • Providing stress-relieving activities, such as coloring books geared toward adults
  • Ensuring the space is clean and well-maintained

Training Your Cafeteria Staff

The first person that greets visitors in your cafeteria will be one of the many team members who keeps it running, whose value often goes underutilized. While their primary job may be the upkeep of the cafeteria, it’s important that they empathize with a visitor’s state of mind, who might be waiting on their loved one’s surgery or treatment.

Cafeteria team members should be well-trained and committed to making their space friendly and welcoming. Encourage your team members to have positive interactions with visitors. This may be as simple as a friendly greeting, but it may mean asking an upset visitor if they would like to speak with a social worker.

There are many points of contact within a hospital that shape a caregiver’s experience, and you can help them cope with their situation by making those individuals as supportive as possible.

Making Space for Caregivers

Your hospital team members know how to provide excellent care for patients. They should be committed to the same level of care for the needs of the visitors and caregivers that often spend just as much time in your hospital as your patients.

The hospital experience is a collective concept. Everyone from the person who greets your visitors to your physicians to your cafeteria staff plays a role in how they perceive your facility.

All of your team members should share the same vision of catering to the wellbeing of every individual who enters your hospital doors — and your cafeteria can be an ideal place to start.

April 08, 2020

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