Earlier this month, the city moved to ban the sale of big sodas and other sugary drinks at fast-food restaurants and theaters, beginning in March. Critics say the hospital initiative is yet another sign that Bloomberg is running a "nanny state," even though the guidelines are voluntary and other cities - including Boston - have undertaken similar efforts.
Hospitals say that it would be hypocritical of them to serve unhealthy food to patients who are often suffering from obesity and other health problems.
"If there's any place that should not allow smoking, or try to make you eat healthy, you would think it'd be the hospitals," Bloomberg said Monday. "We're doing what we should do and you'll see, I think, most of the private hospitals go along with it."
The cafeteria crackdown will ban deep fryers, make leafy green salads a mandatory option and allow only healthy snacks to be stocked near the cafeteria entrance and at cash registers. At least half of all sandwiches and salads must be made or served with whole grains. Half-size sandwich portions must be available for sale.
"People sometimes right now don't have healthy options," said Christine Curtis, the city Health Department's director of nutrition strategy. "So you are there at 2 in the morning and maybe your only choice is soda and chips."
Most hospitals have already overhauled their vending machines by allowing only two types of 12-ounce high-calorie beverages at each vending machine - and they must be featured on the lowest rack.
Hospital vending machines have also swapped out most baked goods for snacks like granola bars and nuts.
At privately run Montefiore Medical Center, which operates several hospitals in the Bronx, changes have been under way for a couple of years.
"We took ice cream out of the cafeterias and began serving more whole grains," said Dr. Andrew Racine, chief medical officer. "We changed white rice to brown rice."
Herbert Padilla, a retired Manhattan hairdresser, was sitting a few feet from a giant soda machine Monday in an outpatient waiting area at St. Luke's-Roosevelt, where he was undergoing treatment for a nerve disorder. He said that, in general, he supports efforts to keep people from overdosing on junk food, but "we shouldn't be forced into this by a hospital."
"The mayor is going too far with this. It's ridiculous," he said. "We're being told what to eat and what to drink. We're not living in a free country anymore."