Plans for all hospitals to serve hot evening meals after 5.30pm have been watered down to reflect regional differences.

The proposal for a minimum standard was to be part of the government's overhaul of NHS hospital food led by TV chef Loyd Grossman.

But it has been decided that hospitals which currently provide hot meals at lunchtime can continue to do so if they wish, providing only a light snack in the evening.

Older people, particularly in the North, tend to prefer their main meal of the day at midday, according to Philip Patterson, catering manager at Newcastle upon Tyne trust and a member of the national advisory team.

Shifting the hot meal to evenings could have had major staffing and related cost implications in many trusts as it would have meant staff needed to be employed until later in the day to cook it.

Mr Patterson said the national advisory team would also recommend that snacks would be best served mid-afternoon and late evening, rather than midmorning and mid-afternoon.

The Hospital Caterers' Association is concerned that some trusts may not have properly budgeted for the new 24-hour wardcall service enabling patients to get a snack between meal times, which is due to be available from December.

The government announced a£40m overhaul of NHS hospital food in November after surveys showed massive patient dissatisfaction with the quality of food, and that more than£45m of food was wasted each year.

Pam Miller, national chair of the Hospital Caterers' Association and assistant director, non-clinical support services, at Bradford Hospitals trust, says every trust should have budgeted for the 24hour service. 'It has happened in some places, but not in others, ' she said. 'But it is non-recurring money, which is a concern.We are allowing 50p per patient per day for snacks, but if we do not get that I will have to reduce the money spent elsewhere.'

Bradford will be using the money to buy fridges so that snacks like sandwiches, yoghurt and fruit juice can be stored on the wards.