Methods to Develop a Patient Food Menu

How to Develop a Patient Food Menu
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Health care facilities must provide their patients with a variety of nutritionally balanced meals. Food and nutrition services and registered dietitians carefully plan meals based on patients’ average age, their nutritional needs, and their state of health. Menu planning must also take into consideration budgeting, the facility’s food preparation capabilities, and storage capacity. An ideal menu will be nutritionally adequate and provide an array of flavors, textures, and colors that will satisfy the patient population. After a menu is planned, it is analyzed for nutritional adequacy using a nutrient database or a food analysis program.

Step 1

Determine the length of the menu cycle, the menu pattern, and the menu format. The length of the menu cycle may be determined by your state agency, funding source, or by the patient’s average length of stay. Also, consider the age of the patient population. For example, adults usually prefer a longer menu cycle because they eat a wide variety of foods, whereas children and adolescents typically eat a smaller number of foods. Most health care facilities offer a menu cycle of two to four weeks. After the menu cycle is determined, decide on the menu pattern. A traditional menu pattern includes three full meals per day and two nourishments, or snacks, in between. Usually, the menu format is either selective, meaning patients can pick their meals, or non-selective, meaning patients are only offered one meal. Menu pattern is often determined by the health care setting. Skilled nursing facilities, for example, often have a non-selective menu.

Step 2

Determine the patient’s nutritional needs and state of health. Special diets may be needed for patients with certain medical conditions. Medical conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and dysphagia require dietary intervention to manage the condition. Review the therapeutic or modified diets that the facility calls for as well as the dietary guidelines required by the national guidelines and regulatory agency. The regular or general diet, for example, would be planned according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and meet the guidelines of your regulatory agency. A facility may require several similar menus with different nutritional guidelines to be planned for different diets. In addition to the regular diet, a consistent carbohydrate diet, cardiac diet, 2-gram sodium diet, renal diet, and mechanically altered diets may also be needed.

Step 3

Consider the budget, season, vendor options, food preparation equipment and storage capacity. The menu planner will have to be aware of the allowable cost per meal and the price of foods. If beef is an expensive menu item, it may not fit into the menu budget more than once per week. It is also important to determine the frequency of deliveries, storage capacity, and how foods will be prepared based on the equipment in the kitchen. For instance, if the kitchen has limited refrigeration space, chilled foods would have to be planned based on the delivery day. If a kitchen only has a limited number of ovens, two baked foods in the same meal may not be feasible.

Tips and Warnings

  • To increase patient satisfaction, include a variety of foods with differing tastes, textures, and colors, and consider the patients’ cultural backgrounds.


Article reviewed by Molly Solanki Last updated on: Nov 12, 2012

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