by Caroline

I am a little bit obsessed with school lunch. My essay for this book is on the subject, my next column for Literary Mama is on a school lunch documentary; I volunteer in the cafeteria as often as I can because I feel so strongly that it’s a place that can be as educational as any other room at school, and I want to see what the kids are learning there about food and community. But mostly, I just want every kid to eat a good school lunch, and I know that many, for many complicated reasons, just don’t.

But this week I got a little distracted from school lunch and started to think about hospital lunch. Luckily it was nothing personal; we did spend some time in the hospital when Ben was a baby, but he was too young to eat solids and my family brought enough food that, as far as I recall, Tony and I never had to eat the hospital food (I tell some of the story here). First, Lisa mentioned Cristina Nehring‘s lovely piece about mothering her daughter through a long hospitalization for leukemia treatment, and then I read this piece in the Times about Pnina Peled, a chef in New York City who is trying to improve hospital food for the very youngest patients.

You think your kids are picky? Now think about how fussy they get about food when they are sick. Now, multiply that by a factor of appetite-suppressing and taste-altering medicines, IVs, shunts, and probes, plus medically-required low-sodium, low-sugar, and/or low-microbial diets for kids who are missing home and home cooking. Read Marie Lawson Fiala’s Letters from a Distant Shore and Vicki Forman’s This Lovely Life, two gorgeous, fierce memoirs about too much time in the hospital with their sons. This all might give you some sense of the challenges Ms Peled faces — and by all accounts meets — every day, by producing buffalo wings and vegetable skewers, pressed turkey and cheese sandwiches like the ones at Dunkin’ Donuts, shrimp scampi made with Promise instead of butter, eggplant Parmesan made with egg whites, whole-wheat bread crumbs and soy cheese, and pumpkin spice cake made with egg whites and applesauce. It might not all sound so good to us, but we’re not the ones she’s cooking for.

Luckily we’re not eating hospital lunch right now, but if we ever are, I hope we’re lucky enough to be fed by someone like Ms Peled. “Food is about bringing people together and making them happy,” she says — whether you’re at home or hospital.