Senior doctors have warned the NHS is putting patients at risk with sub-standard food, which is lacking in essential nutrients and loaded with salt.
Ministers have been urged to make Scotland first in the UK to put nutritional standards for NHS meals on a statutory footing, according to reports in The Times.
The issue was raised during a consultation to improve and assure the nutritional standards of food in hospitals.
Mike Lean, a professor of human nutrition at Glasgow University and the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (RCPE) are among those to have voiced concerns about the state of hospital food in Scotland. RPCE is also calling for tougher controls on portion sizes for obese patients.
Lean said: "From long-term careful observation of meals, it is clear that current efforts are failing to provide even the option for inpatients to eat a nutritionally complete diet.
"There is no formal evaluation or monitoring and requests for improvement, for example to provide sufficient vegetables and fruit for a ward, are simply ignored."
He criticised a lack of training in nutrition for caterers providing food for vulnerable patients and said meals are "commonly very poorly designed".
He claimed meals fail to supply the nutrients required for a healthy or sick person and often arrive without vegetables or fruit.
Julian Fris, director of facilities management consultancy firm, Neller Davies, told The Caterer: "The focus on nutritional content is clearly very important but this is part of a wider issue which needs to be addressed around the whole patient experience.
"We've seen some incredibly negative feedback around quality which suggests there is a disconnect between specification, delivery and follow-up."
He added: "Looking more closely at how a patient is served is really important; where was it prepared, how was it presented on the ward, and how was this followed up when patients returned to the community? These are all important questions to answer.
"It's really important to broaden the debate and also look to the underlying reasons behind the alarming satisfaction rates in Scotland, not only locally but also on a national level."
This is not the first time the quality of food in Scottish hospitals has come under scrutiny.
Earlier this year a freedom of information request by Scotland on Sunday revealed that Scottish hospitals threw away more than 590 untouched or partially eaten meals every day in 2015, equating to costs of more than £1m.
The investigation discovered that more than 215,300 meals were binned in 2014-15, but the full figure is expected to be even higher, as some health boards were unable to provide figures.
During the summer, Ravenscraig Hospital in Greenock was told to improve its catering after a number of incidents where elderly patients choked on hard vegetables.
Aileen Campbell, the Scottish Government minister for public health, is examining the case for making nutritional guidelines legally binding to ensure patients are offered food that is lower in fat, salt and sugar, depending on their dietary needs.
She said: "While hospital food has very good standards of nutrition we are currently considering how we can ensure only the best standard of food is served.
"We have also introduced new standards for food available in hospital shops, vending machines and restaurants, requiring at least half of the food on offer to be healthy."
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