A Woman Takes Photos of Her Hospital Meals in Japan – And It’s Shocking

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By: | Published: Jan 23, 2023

Just mention “hospital food” to someone, and they’ll make that “yuck” face like the emojis. It’s bad enough to have to be in a hospital for treatment, but the food you receive, which is supposed to nourish you during your stay, is, for the most part, unappetizing and sometimes inedible.

Yet this Japanese woman had a very different experience. Let’s see what kind of food she was served during her hospital stay.

The Hospital Meal Experience

If you’ve ever stayed in a hospital for more than a day or so, you know what we’re talking about. Patients open their covered plates to see bland servings of unrecognizable foods; most of the food is not hot by the time the patient receives it.

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You’ve probably seen it even if you just visit a friend or family member – jiggly jello, slabs of meat, cold coffee, maybe a bowl of tepid soup. The patient needs food for nourishment and healing, but these trays mostly go uneaten, and for good reason.

Here’s Lauren Goeku

Lauren lives in Naha, Okinawa, Japan, with her husband. They were excited to learn that Lauren was expecting a baby girl. As with all expectant parents, the couple prepared for Lauren’s time in the hospital.

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Lauren and her husband prepared their hospital bag of goodies and labor aides, as instructed by the hospital, including sets of baby clothes and a robe and nightgown for Lauren. The one thing Lauren couldn’t prepare for was the awful hospital food she was expecting. She figured she’d do her best and bear it.

A Great Healthcare System

The Japanese healthcare system is quite amazing. Compared to other countries, where one receives an astronomical bill after delivery, including charges for minor items such as tissues and hospital slippers, healthcare is highly subsidized in Japan.

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Insurance is not totally free, but it is very low cost. This is a relief for the public, and Lauren and her husband were glad that they didn’t have to worry about paying huge bills once they got home with their new baby girl.

Japan Does it Right

In her Reddit post, Lauren explained that she can walk into any clinic off the street and get an expensive test like an MRI for a low fee of about $50. That’s quite amazing when you think that the same test in the U.S. can run into thousands of dollars, even with a health plan.

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Even more surprising is that Japan’s system doesn’t charge anything for prenatal and postnatal care. These are 100% covered. So the young couple with a new baby has no financial worries. And other perks come with the hospital stay.

An Amazing Birth Experience

Lauren was so relieved that her health insurance paid for four days of room and board, giving her plenty of time to rest up after delivery. In other countries, mothers are sent home within two days or sometimes even one day.

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In addition, the nurses were extremely helpful in teaching her how to feed her baby, look out for danger signs, bathe her, and get her on a schedule. After four days of learning new skills, she felt pretty confident going home with her newborn.

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The Usual Hospital Fare

For those of you who have ever had a hospital stay, one of your less pleasant memories might be opening up that cover on your food tray to see some of the most unappetizing food ever. You have to feel for the hospital cafeteria staff feeding thousands of people every day, and surely they work very hard.

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But seriously, what is presented to the patient could sometimes be enough to put you off from eating, which is not ideal for someone recovering from illness. Since this was Lauren’s first time in a hospital, and she had heard horror stories about hospital food, she was prepared for the worst. Boy, was she surprised.

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Gourmet!

Lauren was so shocked by the quality and variety of the food she received that she decided to photograph each meal. The presentation itself was worth documenting. She wanted to share the news about the fancy cuisine with her friends.

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Each dish was fresh, hot, and delicious. There were new menus for each meal, and everything looked so good that she ate well, which definitely helped her recovery.  What she didn’t expect was that her images would be the impetus for a worldwide conversation about hospital food.

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A Taste of Lauren’s Hospital Meals

Just take a look at the beautiful meals Lauren received in the hospital. On the first day, she ate a traditional Japanese omelet stuffed with fried rice. She was shocked to open her tray and find such a unique and delicious dish.

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On the side, she was served macaroni salad, chicken soup, fresh fruit, and squid rings. A cup of green tea was included. But just look at the beautiful presentation. Each food had its own plate, presented elegantly, and looked freshly cooked.

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Feast Your Eyes

On another day, the hospital served chicken fingers, melon stir-fry, miso soup, and rice. This is the kind of meal you’d expect in a nice Japanese restaurant, not from a hospital kitchen. How inviting for the patient – the presentation is so beautiful that it encourages eating.

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The hospital kitchen staff even added different preparations of tofu, as is the custom in Japan. The dish is called agedashi tofu, and is very popular. Lauren couldn’t help taking photo after photo of her culinary treats.

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Here’s Another Meal

Another day, Lauren received a plate of mushroom pasta, two fresh rolls, and a broccoli and bacon salad. All of the patients in that hospital must really benefit from these well-balanced, nutritious meals.

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Imagine, instead of groaning inside when the food tray comes in, being excited to see what tasty food you’re getting. And instead of moving cold mashed potatoes around on your plate, you dig in and eat every bite. That’s surely a recipe for a fast, healthy recovery.

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Her Last Meal Before Going Home

The last meal Lauren received was something called “Oiwai” which means a celebration meal. This meal was truly fit for a party. It was sweet that the hospital celebrated her return home with her new baby with a festive meal fit for a fine restaurant.

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Lauren ate roast beef, mashed potatoes, camembert cheese, raisins, green tea, and kabocha. Dessert was tiramisu. Instead of being grateful to go home and get homemade food, Lauren probably felt that she was going to miss these gourmet meals.

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I’m Coming to Japan!

When Lauren posted the images of her meals in the hospital, the responses were overwhelming. The funniest was someone who wrote, “I wanna give birth in Japan. And I am a 60-year-old man…”

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These images inspired a discussion about hospital food in the U.S., with many commenters complaining about their hospital stays and the awful meals they were served. Many agreed that if they’d had a meal like Lauren’s, they would have eaten more and possibly healed faster.

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A Scathing Comment

A person who works in an American hospital wrote, “I work in a U.S. hospital, and the food we serve our patients is the kind of stuff that most likely landed them there in the first place.” 

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That comment, from someone inside the hospital system, was perhaps the most shocking of all. It shows that even the hospital staff feels that the patients are not being served quality food and feel concerned for the patient’s nutritional welfare.

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Questions about Lauren’s Food

Although most of the commenters were impressed by the food Lauren was served in the hospital, some questioned whether the food itself was appropriate for a pregnant or lactating mother. 

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One commenter on Reddit noted that in the U.S., pregnant women are told to stay away from fish because of the danger of mercury. This is especially true for Asian fish because the seafood caught in that region usually has higher levels of pollutants. Other commenters agreed and questioned the menu choices.

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Not to Worry

Lauren assured the commenters that the hospital was extremely careful in choosing food to serve to women in the labor and delivery department. She said, “They told me to stay away from high mercury fish like tuna or swordfish.”

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She continued, adding that other fish, such as salmon, was totally fine. Lauren explained that in general, the fish in Japan is very fresh, so there is little worry about bacteria. She acknowledged the commenters’ concerns and thanked them for their advice.

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Too Much Food?

Other commenters noted that the meals were very large and worried that Lauren was consuming too many calories, even though she was a new mom. As new moms know, they are told to watch their weight after birth so that they can return to their pre-pregnancy weight.

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In Lauren’s hospital, the meal was accompanied by a sheet noting the number of calories in that meal. In that way, she responded, each new mom could keep track of what she was eating and make sure she was not over-eating while in the hospital.

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Calorie Count

Lauren wanted to make sure that the commenters knew she was on top of the issue of weight gain after birth. She explained that all three meals always added up to somewhere between 2000-2500 calories per day.

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Since breastfeeding burns an extra 300-500 calories a day, depending on how much milk the mom is producing, the hospital may have been overfeeding the moms to help with their recovery. It was important to replenish the calories lost during breastfeeding.

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Par for the Course in Japan

Lauren’s images of hospital food shocked people worldwide who have come to expect unattractive and unappetizing food while hospitalized. But for the Japanese audience, these p pictures didn’t shock anyone.

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If you know anything about Japan, you know that in that country, food preparation and service are all about freshness. Ingredients are fresh, food is usually low-fat, and meals commonly include a variety of vegetables, fish, and miso. They do their best to keep patients in good health and to help them recover more quickly.

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Lauren Comes Home

Lauren felt great when she returned home with her husband and daughter, who they named Toyo. She went back to preparing her own meals for her family and loved taking care of her newborn, as tiring as it was.

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She’ll certainly never forget her gourmet-food hospital stay, nor will she forget the care and attention she received from the hospital staff. She felt that being treated so well helped her and Toyo get ready to go home. Welcome to the world, little Toyo!

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