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Amy Umble is health reporter for The Free Lance-Star

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Eat what you want, when you want

Laura Green, patient services manager, poses in the preparation area of the cafeteria at Mary Washington Hospital.

There was a time not so long ago when all hospital patients ate the same food at the same time. If chicken and green beans were on the menu, “everybody got chicken and green beans,” said Laura Green, patient services manager at Mary Washington Hospital.

Now patients have choices. They order from menus, and if they want turkey for breakfast or pancakes for dinner, they can have it. Unless a doctor has them on a special diet, they can eat what they want, when they want.

All three hospitals in the region have some variation of this restaurant-style food service. At Mary Washington, they call it “At Your Request.” Their program allows patients to call between 7 a.m. and 6:45 p.m. for a customized meal, delivered in 45 minutes or less.

“We’ve come a long way,” Green said.

Mary Washington’s program is 10 years old and has been a resounding success. The patient-satisfaction scores for the food service have been consistently among the best in the hospital.   

“We take a lot of pride in that,” Green said.

Dave Willard, senior director for culinary services for Sodexo, the food service contractor at Mary Washington and Stafford hospitals, said that hospitalized patients are often scared and in pain. A restaurant-style meal program restores some measure of control to their lives, he said.

“It’s been incredibly popular,” Willard said. “It’s been a centerpiece of patient-dining for us.”

(The cafeteria menu at Mary Washington Hospital, complete with prices and nutritional information, is now online at the hospital’s web site. Today, for example, lunch customers can choose between vegetable lasagna ($2.69 and 370 calories) or beef chimichanga ($2.29 and 590 calories). To see what’s cooking, click here and choose Week 3. For more about the changes that have occurred to the patient menus at Mary Washington, see the story soon in the paper.)