But now, through the magic of steam, we're being promised meals that are as fresh as those cooked at home.
A technique known as 'steamplicity' is providing the key to improvements in hospital food.
Julia Botfield was at Derby City General Hospital - she's been putting 'steamplicity' to the taste test
Julia spoke to some mums with their new born babies at Derby City to find out what they think.
And we'll be returning to Derby City in the coming months to look at some of the other key issues dominating the NHS.
More about the hospital
Derby Hospitals NHS Trust runs four hospitals in South Derbyshire, including the City's General Hospital, Royal Infirmary and children's hospital.
It's got the maximum three star rating from the NHS, which means it's hitting its performance targets. And, it's in the middle of building a brand new state of the art hospital, using funding from the Private Finance Initiative.
The Derby Hospitals Trusts employ 7,000 staff, from doctors to porters - to cover a population of around 600,000 people.
The new PFI hospital is planned to have 35 operating theatres and well over 1,000 acute beds, when it opens in around 2008.