Patients at Preston and Chorley hospitals are being offered lighter options for their evening meal after bosses surveyed them about their preferences.
Hospital chiefs at Royal Preston and Chorley and South Ribble Hospitals have changed their patient menus to offer lighter dishes instead of a full hot main course in the evening and say this is what patients want.
Unions have criticised the move saying cost-cutting is the true motive.
However, bosses say the new menu costs the same as the old menu to produce and that the change was not about saving money but about responding to patient feedback.
Alan Burton, assistant branch secretary at UNISON central Lancashire, said: “UNISON questions the reason behind this decision and believes that the real driver is the need for the trust to make significant savings.
“We accept some patients may not want a three-course evening meal with a hot main course, but the option should be there for those that do want it.
“Patients who are admitted to hospital late in the afternoon may want a hot meal and good nourishment is essential for people who are recovering from operations.
“Preston hospital did this very thing and introduced lighter meals in the evenings around 17 or 18 years ago.”
Miles Timperley, director of facilities and services at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals, said: “Good nutrition is an important factor in recovering from illness and so we provide a selection of dishes every mealtime to accommodate a variety of dietary requirements.
“Our menus are assessed by a dietician to ensure nutritional balance.
“We regularly consult with our patients about our meals and change the menus in response to their feedback.
“In the summer, we surveyed patients about hospital food, and have re-designed the menu based on their comments.
“We asked a further 250 patients for their views about the new menu, and 84 per cent agreed that they would prefer one hot main dish at lunchtime with a lighter option later in the day.
“Patients also said this better reflected their eating patterns at home.
“The new menus offer a three course meal including a hot main dish at lunch time and a three course meal for supper that includes jacket potatoes, home made soup, and range of sandwiches and salads, with a hot soft main dish for patients who need a soft textured diet.
“Initial feedback about the new menu has been very positive and we will be undertaking another survey in spring to ensure we are continuing to meet patients’ needs.
“We spend £7.80 on meals for every patient every day and prepare our meals on site using as many fresh and local ingredients as possible whilst ensuring we provide the best possible value for money.”
Top chef Paul Heathcote said: “The difficulty with hospital food from the chef’s side is that they are trying to cater for people who are not well and who are probably not in the right frame of mind to eat. They are also dealing with a big mixture of clientele.
“My view is that people are going into hospital to be cared for and while food is emotionally important to a lot of people, a sandwich or jacket potato can be just as nutritious as a hot meal if it is done well.
“If the patient has had a hot meal at lunchtime, having a lighter option a tea will not do them any harm.”