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Volunteer-led initiative helps patients select their daily meals

Toronto, October 22, 2014

By Kate Manicom

David Johnston picks out an apple
David Johnston, a volunteer on St. Michael’s orthopedic wards, picks out an apple in St. Michael’s Patient Food Services area. (Photo by Yuri Markarov)

St. Michael’s patients who may be accustomed to a diet of meat and potatoes or lentils and rice are sometimes unfamiliar with the menu choices offered during their hospital stay.

David Johnston, who volunteers weekly on the orthopedic wards, noticed that patients often inquired about the same menu items such as tourtière or chana masala (spicy chickpeas).

He proposed creating a brochure for volunteers who help patients fill out their menu cards that would answer the most frequently asked questions.

“I was often asked about the French crumb cake (a cinnamon vanilla cake with a crumb topping), the frittata and the turkey wrap,” said Johnston. “I was happy to go to the kitchen and find out, but I was talking to Michael Kidd (director of Volunteer Services) and we decided a brochure for the volunteers would be the best idea.”

Sample breakfast menu
Johnston worked with Diana Huey, a graduate of Ryerson’s nutrition program and a fellow volunteer, to identify the most challenging items.

“Diana was the one I would always talk to in the kitchen,” said Johnston. “She was always there to answer my questions and she was the one who wrote the descriptions.”

Although St. Michael’s Patient Food Services accommodates a variety of diets and allergies, including kosher and vegetarian diets, some patients don’t always disclose their food sensitivities when they’re admitted. Others have distinct taste preferences. For Johnston, who’s volunteered at St. Michael’s since 2011, it comes down to helping patients feel as comfortable as they can during their hospital stay.

“Anything at all that I can do to improve how things work or help with a patient’s decision-making, that’s what’s important to me,” said Johnston. “And anything at all that helps the other volunteers to do their job.”

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael's Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.