• Concern is growing about the occurrence of malnutrition in hospitals throughout the developed world. Reduced involvement of nurses in patients' nutritional care may be one of the contributing factors.
• This study explored nurses' attitudes and knowledge about nutrition and food service in hospital.
• Semi-structured interviews were conducted with seven nurses from the internal medical service of a large Australian acute care hospital.
• Analysis of the interview transcripts revealed that many nurses lacked the in-depth knowledge needed to give proper nutritional care to their patients.
• Although nurses considered nutritional care to be important many had difficulty in raising its priority above other nursing activities, as a result of time constraints and multitasking issues.
• Several problems relating to food service arrangements were also highlighted.
• The findings suggest a need to raise nurses' awareness of the importance of nutrition in patient outcome.
• This study provides information which will guide in-service nurse education programs about nutrition, and suggests strategies for practice and organizational change.