Launched this week – Picture menus making nutritional choices available to all patients

Good nutrition is one of the most important factors in recovering from surgery or illness, so everyone in hospital should always have a choice of safe and healthy meals available to suit them.

This week saw the launch of a suite of picture menus with dietary allergen coding onto the wards of Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (CUH).

The project was the vision of Debbie Stanton, a Speech and Language Therapist based at CUH, who thought of the idea three years ago as a solution for patients who are unable to communicate through speech. Debbie saw that replacing the standard menus on the hospital wards with a clearly-labelled picture menu could make food choices both attractive and easily identifiable for everyone.

With the help of initial design concepts created by Media Studio, Debbie was granted funding from ACT* to create the picture menus.

CUH Dietitians Caroline Heyes and Carla Pearson wanted the menus to identify food types in a very precise way for patients who aren’t able to eat all types of food safely or who have very adverse reactions when exposed to certain foods.  In 2014 allergen rules were changing in the NHS and this seemed the perfect opportunity to combine the two together: a picture menu and an allergen menu.  To meet these requirements the new picture menu provides detailed information for the ingredients of every menu choice:

  • The meat type: chicken, beef, pork, turkey, lamb or fish; 
  • whether it is energy dense, soft, vegetarian or a healthy option;
  • whether it is free from milk, soya, eggs, nuts, gluten or wheat;
  • whether it is low in potassium, low in dietary fibre, has no added salt, is a finger food or a neutropenic option.

Each allergen has been colour coded and given an easily-recognised icon.

The new menu cards and booklets

With the combined efforts of Media Studio, Debbie Stanton, the Estates and Facilities Department, Caroline Heyes, Carla Pearson and the patient information team a range of printed materials has been launched for both the standard menu and the Department of Medicine for the Elderly menu:

  • A forty-four-page ward menu booklet;
  • an eight-page menu information booklet;
  • a set of fourteen-day individual daily menu cards.

In addition, a missed meal menu card shows food options in picture format with an allergy coding information chart. With two daily menu cards for every patient, Media studio will be producing over 1.3 million cards in the first year.

*This work was funded by a grant from ACT – Addenbrooke's Charitable Trust. Find out more about ACT here.