Food and Drink For Members

Three courses and white tablecloths? What Italian hospital food is really like

The Local Italy
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Three courses and white tablecloths? What Italian hospital food is really like
A Thanksgiving hospital meal served in Houston, Texas in 2020. How does Italy compare? Photo by Go Nakamura/ Getty Images via AFP.

Hospital food usually leaves a lot to be desired - but some patients say things are different in Italy.


It’s safe to say that the majority of people preparing for a hospital stay anywhere in the world won’t be expecting much from the food.

But in Italy, some international residents report being pleasantly surprised by the meals they've received while in hospital.

READ ALSO: 'Public vs private: What are your healthcare options in Italy?'

Is decent food to be expected, given Italy’s culinary reputation and its highly-regarded public healthcare system? Or are these patients just a lucky minority?

The Local recently asked readers for their views, and the response was very mixed.

The majority of people who responded to our question about hospital food in Italy rated it as 'poor' (25 people) or 'average' (17 people).

13 readers rated hospital food in Italy as 'good' and four even described it as 'delicious'. Seven people, however, said they found it inedible.

Sharri Whiting in Umbria says the meals she was served in Italian hospitals were "better than food at US hospitals. Fresher, less institutional."

“I’ve had white tablecloths set up before the meal comes,” she says.

"Care is taken to provide well-prepared and balanced food," says Emilia–Romagna resident Jacqueline Gallagher, 66, and 61-year-old Susie Carpanini in Tuscany says the food is "simple and nourishing".

‘Like in the Autogrill’

"Good variety and tasty," says Charles Ippoliti, 68, in Piedmont. "Italian food is always better," says 58-year-old Flavio S. in Lecce, Puglia.

"We found a bar, like in the Autogrill, and the food was fine," says Davide Bennet, comparing hospital food to that found at Italian motorway service stations.

Many recommend asking friends and family to bring in meals from outside - noting that this is what Italians do - though one reader found this wasn’t necessary.


"I used to take my husband lunch every day (being used to English hospitals) but he was given three courses and preferred their meals to mine!" says 74-year-old Sarah Balmer in Casentino, Tuscany.

READ ALSO: 'Very professional but underequipped': What readers think of Italy's hospitals

Sarah’s husband isn’t alone, as one anonymous 64-year-old reader in Lucca, also in Tuscany, judges Italian hospital food to be "far superior to UK hospitals."

But 73-year-old Ian Hesketh in Alberobello, Puglia, reports the opposite: "Compared to the UK the food standard is horrendous."

And Kenneth Treves in Le Marche comments that Italian hospital food is “awful, but I didn't die of it.”

Hospital meals in the US and UK - better or worse than Italy's? Photo by Go Nakamura /Getty Images/AFP.

Overall, few of those who responded to the survey were particularly impressed, often describing the food as “bland” or “carb-heavy”.

Jennifer, a 73-year-old resident of Bagni di Lucca, Tuscany, describes "the standard invalid food of white, white, white," though it was "easy to digest and gave me enough nutrition for what was needed at the time."

Willem-Jan Kuiper, 59, in Le Marche, had "overcooked semolina and pasta without any sauce" and "almost no protein".

'No fresh fruit or vegetables'

There's "basically nothing edible," says Joanne Berger, 58, in Montecatini Val Di Cecina.


A few readers highlighted a lack of options for patients with dietary restrictions.

"As a lifelong vegetarian I suffered in Terni in took a while for them to understand and the answer was a slab of cheese on a plate," says Paul Harcourt Davies, 73.

67-year-old Greg Hopkins in Colico, Lombardy, says the small hospital where he was treated "didn't have the ability to provide for dietary preferences such as gluten free.”

"One could leave fatter and with scurvy," says an anonymous 61-year-old patient in Arezzo, Tuscany.

Readers may not rate the food in Italian hospitals, but importantly most of you agreed that the standards of care were high.

Thanks to everyone who took part in our survey.


Comments (2)

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Suzanne 2023/09/13 09:34
I’ve been in several Tuscan hospitals. Overall, the hospitals are good to very good as far as care goes but it is totally different than in the US. An Italian friend described it to me. In the US you pay mightily for care and your doctors make you a part of your care team, explaining options and letting you choose. They want you to give them a good recommendation. In Italy, Doctors see you as getting a free service and they know best. Paternalistic.
Nancy 2023/09/12 21:22
I stayed in two hospitals. One, the public university hospital in Perugia. And the other a private hospital which is obliged to take a percentage public patients. The food in the university hospital was inedible. I lost five pounds there. The second hospital I looked forward to losing weight but I anticipated my meals with pleasure. I ate them all. They were delicious. And I didn’t lose weight. I even brought condiments to the second hospital ( based on the horrible first). It wasn’t needed.

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