It’s no secret that hospital food can be pretty unappealing, and kosher hospital food is no exception.
The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center is hoping to change that paradigm with the introduction of meals provided by a local kosher caterer at several of its facilities.
On Aug. 1, UPMC’s Montefiore, Presbyterian and Shadyside hospitals and Heritage Place began offering a full menu of kosher meal options — including meat, dairy and vegetarian choices — homemade in East Pittsburgh by Creative Kosher Catering.
The meals, which come frozen and are reheated prior to serving, have so far garnered a positive response, according to Susan Glessner, director of food and nutrition at UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside.
While the UPMC hospitals have offered frozen kosher meal options for years, Glessner said, there always was a problem with quality.
“We had lots of complaints from patients,” she explained. “Some Jewish patients even moved away from the kosher menu.”
The new meals provided by Creative Kosher are “fresh frozen,” Glessner said, and look and taste better than what the hospitals were serving previously. Creative Kosher is also supplying a wider variety of meal options for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as baked goods.
Glessner said that UPMC has “known for a long time that our Jewish patients weren’t happy” with the hospitals’ kosher meals, which were supplied by a variety of non-local vendors.
When looking for a local source, Glessner went straight to Creative Kosher.
Creative Kosher, she noted, “has been around for a while.”
She did not consider any other local kosher vendors, “because we weren’t aware of any others,” she said. “There are not a lot of options out there.”
UPMC does not serve many patients who request kosher food, Glessner said, estimating that there are “maybe two” patients in each of its hospitals at any one time with that requirement.
But because UPMC typically serves between 10 and 20 Jewish patients in each of its hospitals every day, she thinks the kosher options may become more popular.
“I think as the word spreads, more people might ask for kosher meals,” she said. “Our feedback has been positive. People seem impressed with the quality and variety of the food.”
Creative Kosher and UPMC are considering expanding the hospitals’ kosher offerings in the next few months to include “grab and go” sandwiches and other items at the facilities’ respective cafeterias to serve families, physicians and other staff, according to Deena Siebzener of Creative Kosher.
Acknowledging that the number of meals the catering company currently provides to UPMC is relatively small, “quantity is not key,” Siebzener said.
“Honestly, for the community, this is awesome,” she said, noting that her meals “look homey, and I think that is key.”
For example, she said, her soups are served in disposable black bowls, whereas UPMC’s former kosher soups were served in a “deli container.”
“Now, you’re eating from a bowl, like a person,” Siebzener said.
One of the most popular new items on the hospitals’ kosher menu is Creative Kosher’s honey tangy salmon, said Glessner.
But there is one complaint.
“We keep hearing the salmon portion could be a little larger,” she said.
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.