Vegetarian for Life

How to attain excellence in vegan hospital catering

Posted by on 01/01/23 in VfL News and Events

Another new year and another Veganuary is already here. With the rise in veganism, most organisations are getting on board and upping their vegan offerings.

Restaurants are packed with new, exciting plant-based options and supermarkets have an influx of new vegan product launches this Veganuary.

Where do you stand though if you have to stay at your local hospital? Are hospitals able to cater for you as a vegan or vegetarian, or would you be 'lucky' to get a jacket potato and baked beans?

Keep reading for advice on where you stand, which hospitals are leading the way in vegan catering, and what can you do if the hospital you find yourself at doesn’t do a great job catering for you.

As with any special diet, you should be catered for as a vegan because it is a protected belief. You can find more information on this in our Self-Advocacy pack.

Our top tips:

  • If you know in advance which hospital you’ll be going to, do some research online to see how well they’re likely to cater for you.
  • As soon as you arrive at the hospital, tell the people looking after you that you’re vegan so you can order your food in advance. If you know you will be going to hospital, try and notify them of your dietary preferences in advance if you can.
  • If you’re not being offered adequate vegan choices, ask to speak to a dietitian. They should take your nutritional requirements as a vegan more seriously and can offer the catering staff ideas on what foods they could offer you.
  • Ask the staff to mark your vegan diet on the patient board so all staff looking after you will be aware and avoid any mistakes.
  • You could bring in your own plant-based milk and 'butter' if the hospital you’re at doesn’t provide this. You could bring snacks too if you feel you won’t be catered for.
  • Check the offerings in the hospital café for members of the public. It usually has a different menu and you may be able to get meals or at least salads and sandwiches from there.
  • Ask to see the allergens/free-from and also the Asian menu. You may find vegan options here that aren’t listed on the main menu.

Here are some hospitals we know that seem to be going the extra mile for their vegan and vegetarian patients. First let’s start with Vegetarian for Life Hospital Caterer of the Year Award winner 2022: East Lancashire Hospital Trust.

In 2018, East Lancashire Hospital Trust introduced an extensive vegan menu for its patients. It also runs meat-free Mondays every week at the Trust. In 2022, its chefs took part in the NHS Chef Competition with a vegan starter of homemade falafel with lemon and vegan mayonnaise as part of their entry. They were crowned Regional NHS Chef of the Year and won ‘best plant-based dish’.

In its nomination Jijo Mathew, the hospital's Food Safety and Quality Assurance Manager, said:

“Our menus have a wide variety of choices for vegetarians and vegans. 92% of our produce is made in-house. We cater for all dietary requirements and we have a dedicated diet chef to meet all the needs of any dietary requirements a patient would have. Also, we produce all our dysphagia meals in-house. I am sure no other hospitals in the country offer this many choices for vegetarians and vegans. Also, any of our dishes could be altered to suit any dietary requirement. We promote vegetarianism by raising awareness about net zero carbon emissions. We don’t serve any animal or fish products on any of our sites on Mondays”.

The Trust provides soya milk and vegan yoghurt, vegan spread, fruit and vegan rice pudding, as well as a selection of breakfast cereals suitable for vegans. A vegan option for lunch and dinner is provided daily and clearly labelled on the main menu. Options include toor daal with pitta bread, sweet and sour vegetables and rice, mushroom ragu, tomato and basil pasta, vegan cheese and pickle sandwich and butternut squash risotto.

If Apetito supplies a hospital with meals, you should have a good choice of vegan and vegetarian options. Apetito is the leading provider of ready-prepared meals for patients in the UK, supplying over 450 hospitals. You can see its range here.

The University Hospital Southampton (UHS) has appointed a vegan head of sustainability to reduce meat on its menus and has introduced a new vegan menu. There are a number of vegetarian options for patients on the main hospital menu and further options on a separate vegan menu including spicy bean casserole, vegan sausage roll, butternut squash risotto, vegetable curry and apple crumble. Vegan sandwiches are also provided, and vegan cheese is available for jacket potatoes.

READ MORE: British hospital appoints vegan Head of Sustainability to reduce meat on the menu ( 

Check out the Vegan Food Hospital Network for more information on hospitals across the UK and their provisions for vegans and vegetarians. Queen's Medical Centre Nottingham has been highlighted recently with a vegan menu including mac 'n' cheese, Moroccan vegetable tagine, fishless fish fingers and a number of puddings and accompaniments.

We hope that you’ve found this useful. If you’ve had a good or bad experience in hospital as a vegan or vegetarian, we’d love to hear from you


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