Room Service With Your In-Room Care

Forget the rubber chicken, oversteamed vegetables and strained apple sauces -- some hospitals have swapped their bland menus for gourmet fare.

They recently showed off their new cuisine at the Battle of the Hospital Chefs in Chicago. With offerings like grilled honey lime grouper and shrimp watermelon salsa, it's a far cry from what most people expect to receive during a hospital stay.

"So if I'm a patient in your hospital in Athens, Ga., this is the type of meal I can expect?" ABC's John McKenzie asked chef Mark Abbott of St Mary's Health Care.

"Yes. We have a room service menu at your request. And you can order what you want when you want," Abbott said.

"What took so long?" McKenzie asked.

"Green Jell-O hung around awhile," Abbott admits.

Better Food Equals Better Recovery

Hospitals are in the midst of a culinary revolution. About 20 percent offer restaurant-quality meals with fresh produce offered from elaborate menus.

So patients can order such dishes as citrus-marinated loin of pork over essence of natural jus, and oven seared breast of chicken with a curried plum-stone ground mustard glaze at no extra charge.

Many medical centers are also finding that providing good food can be good business.

"In-room dining has a tremendous impact on patient satisfaction. If they're happier because they ate well, then it reflects well on everything else in the medical center," said Irma Newdorf at the Hackensack Medical Center in New Jersey.

And she said they're more likely to eat, which means they will heal better and get "all of their nutritional needs met."

The hospital also allows patients to order room service, so they can eat when they want it, with no extra cost to the hospital, according to Newdorf.

"It's not more expensive when it's made to order. It's cost neutral," she said. "And the reason for that is we don't have to make a large variety not knowing what patients want and getting rid of leftovers. Everything is made to order so there's no waste."

One patient who spoke to ABC News said, "It's definitely surprising. Not what I would expect for hospital food."

Another said, "It looks great and tastes very, very good."

To keep it that way, some hospitals send their chefs to culinary clinics, including the recent competition for best hospital chef.

This year's winner? William Read from St. Mary's Health Care in Grand Rapids, Mich., who prepared macadamia-crusted tilapia with sweet soy reduction and mint sauce.

This nouvelle cuisine won't cure you, but it sure can make you feel better.

For a comprehensive listing of Medicine on the Cutting Edge reports with John McKenzie, click here.