Cooking Therapy

Chef’s Tables give children in hospitals opportunity to get out of their rooms and into the kitchen.

Patients make pizza during one of the Chef's Tables.

HOUSTON—Being in a hospital is difficult, especially for children, so Luby’s Culinary Services has created a new program to allow kids to have fun during their hospital stay. The program, the Chef’s Table, is offered at any hospital where the food management company serves children. The Chef’s Table has been especially successful at Texas Children’s West Campus Hospital, according to Todd Coutee, senior vice president, operations, for Luby’s Fuddruckers Restaurants LLC.

“We understand that sometimes children get bored [while in the hospital]. Or they’re not feeling well. In an attempt to cheer them up, we thought, we’re in foodservice, let’s see what items or opportunities we can get for well children to come down and work on things like decorating cupcakes,” Coutee says.

Some of the activities at the Chef’s Tables include making pizzas, from rolling the dough to topping the pies, baking them and then enjoying the pizzas. Kids can also make Jell-O molds and top them with whipped cream or assemble pasta plates with a variety of sauces. The mini “chefs” are given an apron and chef’s hat to wear and to take home.

The Chef’s Tables are run in the servery or kitchen between meal periods, when there isn’t much traffic. The hospital’s on-site chef or regional chef runs the program. Patients’ siblings and parents are also encouraged to join, and Coutee says most parents elect to join their children. Coffee and light snacks are offered to parents during the event.

Coutee says the hospitals try to do two Chef’s Tables a month, but he says if the census is high they will do them more frequently. To let patients know when the Chef’s Tables are held, the foodservice department sends out email blasts, posts info on the hospital’s internal TV station and talks with parents and nurses to see which children can come down to the dining room.

“A lot of good things have come out of [the Chef’s Tables],” Coutee says. “I think it takes [patients’] minds off of why they’re there. It gets them out of the rooms, which is really good. The parents really appreciate it. It offers a little comfort. From our standpoint it’s another value-added thing we offer as a company so we’re just not there providing food for staff and patients. We’re trying to fit into what the hospitals are doing to do more from a patient-services standpoint.

“The kids react wonderfully,” he adds. “They smile and have a good time. Children are very candid. You’ll bring out one flavor of Jell-O and they will say, ‘I like red, not blue.’ So we’ll go find red. They ask if they can come back tomorrow. You don’t have the heart to say no. If we need to do one the next day, we’ll do it. You take every advantage when you get those moments to make a patient feel better. Some of the children suggest that we do a hot dog building one.”

Luby’s is working on a component of an in-room Chef’s Table for those children who are not well enough to leave their rooms. 

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