Ask the Dietitian: Eating Gluten-Free While in Hospital

Question: I have to stay at [a local hospital overnight and they are not very helpful with gluten free options. I was told I have to pick food off the regular menu. I can’t believe a hospital does not have gf food. Suggestions? Thanks.

Answer: Thank you for writing with this excellent question. Patients who require a gluten-free diet should certainly be able to eat safely & nutritiously while in the hospital, of all places! Here are some suggestions:

1) Contact an inpatient clinical dietitian or food service supervisor at the hospital to discuss your medical dietary needs (Is it safe to assume you have celiac disease?) Please explain that your diet is not a choice but rather the sole treatment for your autoimmune disease.
2) While the hospital may not offer specialized GF items such as bread or pasta, they do serve numerous foods which happen to be naturally gluten-free. If they have not done so already, they should identify those foods and provide a detailed list from which you and future patients can select.
3) If your inpatient stay will last longer than a few days (during which time you should expect to receive variety and balanced, nutritious meals), the dietary department may wish to consider providing frozen GF entrees for increased variety as a simple, short-term solution.
4) Please ask how the hospital handles allergies (e.g. allergy wrist band?) While you technically do not have an allergy, this type of flag will raise awareness when hospital staff is providing food and medication.
5) Speaking of meds, please notify the nursing staff and pharmacy of your gluten restriction.
6) If something does not “look” or seem right, please inquire. Humans make mistakes. If a staff member quickly dismisses your concern, ask to speak with a supervisor or chef.
7) Lastly, you may be able or even encouraged to bring in your own food. While you may choose this option, it should certainly not be a necessity.

All hospitals should be able to meet the medical dietary needs of their patients. Best wishes to you.

Trisha B. Lyons, RDN

2 thoughts on “Ask the Dietitian: Eating Gluten-Free While in Hospital”

  1. Thank you for the response. I have spoken to the dietition and basic food is available and I’ll bring in additions while I’m in the hospital. Fruit and salad will always be available and I’ll be safe with that. I’m not so sure with things as simple as scrambled eggs because I don’t know how they would prepare that. Cottage cheese might be ok.

  2. My recent hospital experience (I have celiac disease) was horrendous. I agree that you should ask to speak with a dietitian or diet technician right away and make sure he/she knows your diet is not just for kicks (but rather to prevent long term consequences). So many people eat gluten-free now that food service professionals take all of us less seriously. 🙁 There will be mistakes on your tray so be prepared to ask questions! It should not be so difficult to eat safely in a hospital! Good luck!

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