Kitchen with a Mission: Q&A with hospital chef Shirley Moore

02/01/2018 - 14:17
Shirley Moore’s challenge every day is to serve up meals that desperately ill children will want to eat, to give them the vital nutrition they need and provide them with the simple pleasure of enjoying good food.

Paediatric catering supervisor Shirley Moore has a special role at The Royal Marsden hospital in Surrey: she heads a seven-strong team on the McElwain Ward feeding more than 20 children and young people who are ill with or recovering from life-saving bone marrow transplants.

She also serves food for up to a further 40 children each day who are there for chemotherapy or other day-patient procedures.

The parents of the children involved appreciated her efforts enough that they nominated her for the Outstanding Professional Award at the recent WellChild Awards attended by the WellChild charity’s patron Prince Harry.

She won on the night at the Royal Lancaster Hotel in London, with the citation commending her willingness to suggest new things, her patience, and her approach to the job that makes clear “nothing is too much trouble”.

She tells Cost Sector Catering about her work.

CSC: What made you move into healthcare catering at The Royal Marsden?

Shirley Moore: I had worked in catering for years and really wanted to use my skills to help others. I was not initially assigned to paediatrics, but absolutely loved it when I was moved a few months after starting to what is now the hospital’s Oak Centre for Children and Young People.

CSC: Have you had any special training to prepare food for the patients on the McElwain Ward?

SM: I have not needed any further training in catering but do liaise regularly with the dietitian team and my line manager.

CSC: How big is the kitchen team you work with?

I have a team of seven that work across two kitchens: one for children aged one to 15, and the other is for teenagers and young people aged up to 24.

We have kitchen cover from 8am until 7pm and provide set mealtimes, a snack trolley and an on-call order menu. We generally have up to 27 inpatients and up to 40 in daycare to feed throughout the day. We also run different cooking workshops for the children, like make your own pizza topping. We do anything to get the children interested in food.

CSC: What are the biggest challenges feeding them?

SM: It is tricky to try and replicate what they have enjoyed eating at home and make it like mum. We will try anything that will help encourage the children to eat even if it means adapting our menu.

Over the years I have tried my hand at cooking different nationality dishes to get them to eat, including Greek soup and Jamaican jerk chicken. I have also served up some weird and wonderful concoctions, including fish finger and honey sandwiches. The list is endless.

CSC: Do you have any extra food budget to help prepare the meals your patients want?

SM: I am very lucky to have the freedom to cater for all the children’s tastes and do not need to worry about the budget. The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity is incredibly supportive and helps us fund the extras that are needed to keep the children happy and fed. Food is a really important part of their recovery.

CSC: Do you talk to the children and their families to find out what they like?

SM: I spend a lot of time talking to patients and their families. It is a really important part of my job to ensure I find out what they like and don’t like. It is often during those chats that I can work out how to get them to eat.

Feeding a healthy child can be a challenge for any parent, but trying to get a child on cancer treatment to be interested in food is unbelievably hard at times. The treatment can often change their taste buds and things they loved before just no longer taste good. For example, chocolate can taste like metal. They usually tend to crave salty foods like crisps, cheese and curry.

CSC: How much do you also work with clinical staff and dietitians?

SM: I work on a daily basis with the clinical team and dietitians in occupational therapy. All our care for the patients is based on teamwork.

CSC: What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

SM: I love to collect empty plates at the end of mealtimes and if I don’t I’ll go back and ask them what else I can make them. I also love to see them come back for check-ups. Patients can be in for months at a time so I get to know them very well. It is amazing when they come back years later looking well.

CSC: Tell us what you enjoyed most about the WellChild Awards night?

SM: It was an honour to represent The Royal Marsden at the WellChild Awards and to be nominated by our patients’ families. I really felt humble to meet the other winners who were mostly children. It really puts life into perceptive when you meet such inspirational people.

Obviously, it was also lovely to meet Prince Harry, who was extremely charming. And it made a nice change to have my dinner cooked for me.

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