Most of us have spent more time in hospitals than we would like – either as patients, or visiting loved ones. Our most recent experience in the hospital was with our son, when he was being evaluated by a team of neuropsychiatric specialists in Utah. It was the first step of our journey, before he went to his current therapeutic setting.
He was very excited because he had earned the privilege of taking us downstairs to the cafeteria for lunch instead of having to stay upstairs and have lunch brought in. Always the tour guide, he showed us the way, took us through the line and delivered us to his favorite destination: the salad bar (a proud mommy moment!). Of course, it was hard for me to ignore the burgers and fries, onion rings, chicken strips, floppy pizza, and refrigerators filled with high fructose corn syrup and colors made of numbers…
Just like in the grocery store, the most colorful bottles were at eye level for the children, easy to reach. I can’t pretend I wasn’t an emotional mess during the visit. But I hardly think that my reaction inside the cafeteria was inappropriate. It was hard for me to understand how a clinic with a focus on behavioral problems would even be serving these types of items. In our own family, I suspected that artificial food colorings, high fructose corn syrup, and perhaps some other ingredients caused additional behavioral challenges. And lots of my friends noticed the same thing, as my friend Christina writes about in her post on The Color of Trouble. So why would a hospital intent on helping people cope with mental health and self-control even serve such ingredients?
Like at home, this residential treatment center sees the benefits of serving healthy and nutritious meals. Of course, they go through many of the same challenges that the parents of toddlers do. Some children, when they arrive, refuse to eat. One boy had a history of eating only brownies and cereal. That’s it. But over time, everyone learns to eat the food that is served. They are all involved in helping to unload groceries, prepare the meals and clear the dishes. And with enough consistency,the children learn. It just takes a bit of training.
I’ll never forget one of our earliest phone calls with our son after he got settled. He said, “Mom – they make the best food here. Tonight we had broccoli soup!” Clearly, when he is ready to come home, our family meals will no longer be something he complains about.
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