Wednesday, October 20, 2010 3:01 PM

This hospital food gets recipe requests

Hospital food is often the target of jokes and for good reason.  Most patients are on diets that limit fat, sugar and salt – limiting its flavor.  Open heart patient Vernious Staton was expecting nothing more than the typical bland hospital fare when she was first admitted to Fresno Heart & Surgical Hospital for open heart surgery in 2004.  Instead, she was amazed with the quality and tastiness.

 “Compared to other hospitals, it was a mile apart” said 71-year-old Staton, who insisted on returning to Fresno Heart & Surgical when she found out she’d need a second open heart surgery this past year. “That place is wonderful.” she explained.

Fresno Heart & Surgical Hospital prides itself on treating patients to a luxury hotel experience in a hospital setting.  Its rooms feature carpeting, drapes and decorative lamps. Tropical plants and small trees decorate hallways. And the staff focus is on service and courtesy. For the past three years, the hospital has been named among the nation’s top 5% in patient experience by HealthGrades. Only two other hospitals in California have achieved a similar distinction.

Although patient surveys used to make those ratings don’t ask about food, the hospital cafe draws a steady crowd of neighboring business people for lunch.  And Staton was so excited about the food that arrived on her hospital tray, that she asked her cardiac surgeon, Shamsuddin Khwaja, M.D. if she could get some recipes from the hospital’s chef.  “Dr. Khwaja is one of the best and he took lots of time and care with me,” she said.

Fresno Heart & Surgical’s Café manger Susan Sample was pleased to share her recipes and very impressed that Dr. Khwaja himself had called her to request the heart healthy recipes for his patient.  The request prompted the hospital and Sample to share special recipes with a wider audience on the hospital’s web site at

Sample says her philosophy on food is that it should taste good, be nutritionally balanced and as fresh as possible.  She likes to get her ingredients from local growers and designs recipes around what’s in season.  Another ingredient is a dedicated kitchen staff.  “My staff works very hard, yet I tell them to find joy in what they are doing”, said Susan Sample, “This is how we provide quality, healthy food that tastes great.”

Staton grew up in the south and learned to cook with lots of flavorful fat.  Being placed on a no fat, no sugar, no salt diet has been a real challenge, she said.  But she said she’s ready to try Sample’s approach and is especially excited to be able to find those heart-healthy, flavorful recipes on the internet now.

To try some of the same recipes that impressed Staton, click here.

This story was reported by Ashley Gunlund. She can be reached at