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Protected mealtimes: information for patients, visitors and relatives

Patient information A-Z


Protected mealtimes are in place on all wards to ensure that patients have a dedicated mealtime, free from as many interruptions as possible. Protected mealtimes will help create a quiet, relaxed atmosphere for patients to enjoy their meal.

Protected mealtimes will vary between wards but will generally be:  Lunch: 12:00 – 14:00  Dinner/ Supper: 17:00 – 19:00

For details of specific wards protected mealtimes see the individual ward web pages.

What are protected mealtimes?

This is a period of time set aside for lunch and dinner when all non-essential activities on the wards will stop. The nurses and ward assistants will be available to serve the food and give help to patients who may need it. This will prevent unnecessary interruptions to mealtimes.

The presentation of food in hospitals is important to ensure that meals are tempting, even to those with the poorest appetites. The only true measure of success is how much food is eaten. We have introduced a protected mealtime service to help our patients get the most nutrition and benefit from the food provided.

Red trays, jugs and beakers

Some patients may be given their meals/drinks on a red tray, jug or beaker. This is a prompt to staff that these patients may need additional support or assistance with eating their meals or having drinks.

Who will be on the ward at mealtimes?

As well as the patients, the only people on the ward will be nursing staff, ward assistants, carers/ volunteers trained to assist patients with their meal. They will all have the same aim: to help, encourage and monitor the patient’s food intake during their mealtime and make it an enjoyable experience.

Please be assured that all emergency treatments will still be dealt with.

Missed meals

If you are an inpatient, sometimes it is important that you have a procedure or scan at a set time. If you have missed a meal for this reason or felt unwell and consequently missed a meal, please talk to the nursing staff who will be able to arrange a hot meal or snack box for you.

What can relatives or visitors do to help?

If you are visiting a ward please respect the wards protected mealtime and only visit during visiting times.

If you normally visit at mealtimes to help your relative or friend eat, or just to give encouragement, we are happy for you to continue to do this. Please ask the nurse in charge how you can help.

If possible, please try to avoid telephoning the ward, or your relative, for information during these times so the staff can concentrate on helping the patients with their meal.

Together we can make sure that all our patients are given the appropriate help and the required time to eat and enjoy their meals uninterrupted. This is a key requirement for good nutrition and will help them to recover more quickly.


Please talk to the nursing staff if you have any questions regarding protected mealtimes.

We are smoke-free

Smoking is not allowed anywhere on the hospital campus. For advice and support in quitting, contact your GP or the free NHS stop smoking helpline on 0800 169 0 169.

Other formats

Help accessing this information in other formats is available. To find out more about the services we provide, please visit our patient information help page (see link below) or telephone 01223 256998.

Contact us

Cambridge University Hospitals
NHS Foundation Trust
Hills Road, Cambridge

Telephone +44 (0)1223 245151