The Unit Pantry Gets a Makeover

It’s no secret that hospital food can be downright awful and bland, but we’ve all either been starving mid-shift without the ability to get to the cafeteria or needing some extra fuel at 3 am when the coffee shop is closed. Or when the break-room donuts are long gone and the leftover Chinese food is rock-solid, literally. This is when the basics in the pantry become your go-to. So, what are your options?

Hospital and unit pantries can vary widely (which you discover quickly when you’re a travel nurse), but they’ve all pretty much got the same basics: milk, juice, mustard, jello, ketchup, crackers, ice cream, popsicles, butter, pudding, tea, honey, salt, pepper, peanut butter, or instant coffee. While none of them sound appealing, when combined (and when desperate), more palatable options can and do exist!

Want to get creative – for yourself, your co-workers, or your patients? When life (or the hospital pantry) gives you lemons (or ice cream or jello or graham crackers)… we’ll help you to be prepared!

Ice Cream

Hopefully your unit fridge has some basic ice cream flavors like vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate. It’s most likely your unit only offers vanilla ice cream. But no worries, you can work with that!

  • Add instant coffee powder to vanilla ice cream, voila- coffee ice cream!
  • Add toppings like crushed graham crackers, crushed cookies, banana slices, and/or apple slices.
  • Add a chocolate milk to two vanilla ice creams and microwave for ten seconds to create your own Wendy’s frosty

Peanut Butter

Dip anything in peanut butter and it tastes 10x better.

Yummy things to pair with peanut butter:

  • Carrots
  • Celery sticks
  • Apple slices
  • Bananas
  • Graham crackers

Dinner Rolls

Most patients skip those wrapped plain dinner rolls. Why let them go to waste? Hospitals are wasteful enough! These microwaved for 5 seconds and dipped into warm butter are quite edible. Just be careful that you don’t microwaved too much or they’ll quickly turn rock solid.

Cereal

Don’t skip the basics. Have some cereal with milk (and bring your own favorite cereal or granola in a ziplock bag if you don’t like what your unit offers)! Is your unit out of stock on the type of milk that you prefer? You may be able to make it with what’s left.

Did you know whole milk is only about 3.5% fat?

If you want 2% milk, you can mix whole milk with 1% milk in the right ratio (like you learned in math) or just to taste.

Other pantry items that you can have with your milk:

  • Dip some graham crackers in them
  • Dip cookies in them (duh)
  • Mix tea and sugar with your milk to make milk tea

Pudding

Ok so pudding might be one of those ‘yuck’ stereotypical hospital foods but give it a chance. Banana in chocolate pudding = yum.

Turkey Sandwiches

These can get pretty dry, but hey, beggars can’t be choosers. Warm them up in the microwave (optional) and add (a lot of) mayonnaise and/or mustard.

Beggars can’t be choosers.

Last but not least, I’ve heard of ONE hospital that provides chocolate chip cookie dough protein bars. Microwave it until semi soft and top with ice cream to make a ‘pizookie.’

And that’s a wrap. Have your own secret hospital pantry recipe to share? Please do! Of course, always comply with hospital policy.

Jasmine Chen
Jasmine Chen, Trusted's first nurse, grew up in the Bay Area of California. She worked as a bedside RN for two years, and is now headed to Duke this August for her DNP in Nurse Anesthesia. In the 24 months she's worked as a bedside RN, she's experienced more than she could have ever imagined. She was able to work in 4 hospitals, live in 3 new cities, work in 5 different critical care units (CICU, CTICU, CVICU, CCU, ICU), and has floated to another 11 units. She worked as a new graduate, staff, and traveler. And she's got the cutest puppy ever.