apetito wins national innovation award for hospital plated meals system

As Coalition cuts continue to bite hard, NHS Trusts are under great pressure to make cost savings wherever possible without compromising on quality of patient care. 

Hospital food is an emotive subject and any steps to cut costs in this area will understandably draw concern over any impact this would have on the quality of food served to patients.  However, by serving patients appetising food they want to eat – and at times they want to eat it – hospitals can make significant savings by cutting down on the amount of food that’s thrown away every day.

At apetito, we’re always on the lookout for ways in which to innovate and the motivation for creating CarteChoix sprang from a desire to improve the patient dining experience -  reducing food waste was an added bonus!

Presentation, presentation, presentation
Despite the great strides that have been made to address the problem, hospital food continues to suffer from a bad reputation and many patients will harbour negative perceptions that won’t encourage them to eat their meals.  At the very least, this means patients should never be presented with a meal that’s either packaged in a way that’s difficult to open or has the appearance of simply being ‘slopped’ onto a plate – neither is conducive to encouraging their appetites.

To ensure that dishes look as good as they taste, the CarteChoix system relies on a unique upside down cooking method and compartmentalised plastic trays, which keep the key meal components separated during cooking.  This means protein, potato and vegetable elements are only brought together at the last moment, enhancing the appearance and adding to their appetising quality, while vegetables are gently steamed to retain their colour and an al dente texture.

After removing the meal from the freezer and peeling off the plastic sleeve, a china plate is selected, placed on top of the tray and turned over.  We find that presenting meals on a warm china plate goes a long way towards tackling negative preconceptions of hospital food by offering a dining experience similar to that which patients would come to expect at home or in a restaurant.

The china plates used in the CarteChoix range also aid the heating process as they’ve been designed to conduct and distribute heat evenly for optimum cooking results. 

The importance of flexibility
Introducing as much flexibility into your catering system as possible is key to reducing waste.

Not only do systems that heat food at ward level ensure it’s served at the correct temperature, they give nurses the flexibility to feed patients as and when they’re ready to eat.  With food available at a time that meets their individual fluctuations in appetite, patients are more likely to finish their meals than when forced to dine within a rigid timeframe. 

There was a particular gap in the existing hospital food provision for a flexible meal range across wards with a high patient turnaround, such as maternity or admissions, as well as other acute settings.  In fact, our trials revealed that wastage on these wards can be as much as 30 per cent.  Bulk meals systems are still an excellent solution for many longer stay patients and CarteChoix has been designed to complement these systems, however in the acute hospital setting plated meals can offer greater flexibility

As CarteChoix meals are heated at ward level and have a cook time of just 5-7 minutes, patients don’t need to order their meals hours or even days in advance. 

Any measures that can be taken to reduce the amount of time between ordering and serving will reduce the chance of patients leaving wards before their meal is served which will in turn reduce the number of meals going uneaten and ensure that patients receive the meal of their choice.   Regardless of the kind of catering system your Trust relies on, the use of frozen food introduces greater flexibility as it allows for meals to be heated up as and when they’re required and significantly reduces the chance of less popular meals going out of date before they are used and therefore leading to significantly higher levels of food waste. 

The ability to cook meals at ward level offers the added bonus of cutting down the time from when food is heated to when it reaches the patient.  With some catering systems, meals can take an hour or more to be portioned out and transported from the kitchen to the ward, which leaves the food less appetising and not of the right temperature by the time it’s served.

Portion control
Furthermore, appetites vary, not all patients will feel ready to eat during set daily mealtimes.  For wards such as oncology where appetites can be affected by treatment, CarteChoix meals can provide an ideal, on-demand, out-of-hours meal, so patients can order what they feel like, when they feel hungry.

Key to reducing waste is to provide meals and snacks in portions that match the appetites of your patients so they’re not served an overwhelming amount of food they’re unable to finish.

Because CarteChoix meals are individually portioned, wards need only cook exactly what’s required.  This alleviates the need for complex menu collation and the picking and packing associated with a bulk system, so it can deliver significant labour savings.

According to figures released by the Care Quality Commission1, the NHS is spending more than £22 million each year on patient meals returned uneaten.  This shockingly high sum is a clear sign that any efforts aimed at reducing food wastage can have a significant impact on your budget – freeing up cash to spend on developing and improving your service. 

More importantly, the role of food in aiding recovery is of course well documented, but if your patients are not served appetising food, when they’re ready to eat, they could miss out on the nutrients they need to get better.

We’re proud that the innovative thinking behind CarteChoix has been recognised by such a prestigious award, but find the difference it’s making to the lives of patients, the most rewarding accolade of all.


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