Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Role of Theme Meals in Dietetics

What does planning and organizing a theme meal have to do with dietetics? That was the question I asked myself at the beginning of a 6 week food service rotation. But as my partner and I started the planning, I realized that I was using a lot of information I learned during undergrad classes--like recipe conversions and calculating staffing needs. I also realized that I was gaining a lot of information that will help me as a future dietitian.

Dietitians can play vital roles in food service operations, even as a clinical or community dietitian. I learned a lot about patience, compromise, and trial-and-error from planning our theme meal. Those are valuable life lessons that I’m sure I’ll use throughout my career, even though they’re not specific to the field of dietetics. However, there are components of planning a theme meal that directly relate to being a Registered Dietitian (RD).

Salmon that my partner and I cured for a recipe

Menu Building
The first step in planning our theme meal was building the menu.  We had a basic menu pattern for our meal: two salads, three sides, three entrees, and two desserts. Next we needed to apply our Hawaiian theme and select items that were suitable for our patrons. This was easier said than done. After spending hours upon hours researching authentic Hawaiian recipes, we chose a few selections that we felt would both be nutritionally sound and appeal to the seniors who would eat the meal. Only half of those recipes ended up on our final menu, though.  We eliminated one selection because that certain type of fish was difficult to prepare for mass production; another one was ruled out because a key ingredient would completely blow our budget. This process reminded me of an experience I had working with a patient who was just diagnosed with renal disease;  I suggested a number of foods that fit for his health condition, but each was shot down for various reasons, most often a dislike of the food. The patient and I worked together to craft a meal plan that worked for him, just like my partner and I crafted a menu that fit for our theme meal. I was happy to get this menu building experience because dietitians should be well versed in building well-rounded menus which are suitable for their populations.

Nutrient Analysis and Recipe Evaluation
To plan a successful meal, we needed to convert recipes for mass production, convert ingredients to different units for accurate ordering, and analyze the nutritional value of the recipes. Analyzing the nutritional value of a meal may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s essential for RDs to know how to calculate the nutritional value of a meal without using the crutch of an online tool. And let me tell you--this was a long and tedious task for someone who hasn’t taken a basic math class in 4 years. Now that I’ve had the experience of doing so, I feel competent to calculate a nutrient analysis by hand in the future.

Hawaiian-decorated dining room for the theme meal

A huge component of planning our theme meal was making sure we stayed on budget. Our budget included food cost and decorations. Thankfully, our food service facility managed the staffing, although we did get to play with the puzzle that is building a schedule of employees with irregular availabilities. Budgeting is a skill that, frankly, everyone needs to perfect. As a future RD, I can foresee using budgeting skills in many areas of dietetics, especially in a management role.

Quality Analysis
During our meal, we passed out short surveys to ask customers about their opinion of the meal. After the meal was complete, we collected all of the surveys and compiled the results. We used this data to determine the least and most popular menu items and offer suggestions to future interns planning a theme meal. Quality assurance is a practice that I believe is of utmost importance to being a dietitian. Conducting any kind of quality analysis, whether it be formal or informal, is vital to knowing what you’re doing well and how you can improve.

My partner and I spent many long days working together to carefully prepare and plan for this 2.5 hour event. While the process was not as fun as I thought it would be, I did learn a lot.  I am glad I had this opportunity to develop many skills that I will continue to use as a professional; some directly relate to dietetics and some relate to professionalism in general. Thankfully our Hawaiian theme meal was successful, and despite those stressful weeks leading up to the event, I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Nutrition and Food Science Department Poster Day

On Friday, May 5 the UMD dietetic interns had the opportunity to present abstract posters for the University of Maryland’s Department of Nutrition and Food Science Research Day, which was held at the National Agricultural Library.

The day started off with a keynote speaker, Dr. Eric Brown, Ph.D. Dr. Brown is the director of the Division of Microbiology in the Office of Regulatory Science at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The topic of his presentation was “The Rise of Whole Genome Sequencing for Food Safety and its Role in Augmenting Traceback of Foodborne Pathogens Back to Their Source.” To put it simply, we learned about the advancements in technology that the FDA is using during foodborne illness outbreaks, such as salmonella, to determine the original source of the bacteria. While the topic is serious, Dr. Brown was able to add an element of humor to this presentation by showing a decision tree for how people determine whether they will eat something they dropped on the ground.  Points to be considered included “did anyone see,” “was the food sticky,” etc.

Dr. Brown and his decision tree presentation slide
After the keynote presentation and lunch, we presented our posters to four judges, all of whom are in the dietetics field. Posters were either in the “case study” category or “special project” category. We spent approximately ten minutes talking with each judge about our posters, explaining our topic, and answering questions.

My abstract poster was about Recovery Record, an application (app) for eating disorder treatment. There are two different apps: one for the clinician and one for the client. The client can log food, feelings and behaviors in their app. The clinician uses the app to see a newsfeed of clients and their current moods, eating patterns, and behaviors. This app can be used for any kind of eating disorder and eliminates the need for a 24-hour food recall or counting on the client’s memory when determining what foods have been eaten recently. The client’s version differs from food trackers in that it does not include  calories, macronutrients, or a food database. Food is entered in as free text and then the client is prompted to document if they ate too much food (binged), an adequate amount of food, or not enough (restricted).  The clinician can easily see progress being made by the patient in a HIPAA compliant app, and can send messages back. The app allows for more frequent communication between the clinician and client between visits. This is important for those recovering from eating disorders. I believe the concept of this app, encouraging mindful and intuitive eating rather than calorie-based tracking, could be successfully used for apps for weight loss and other disease states.

Me (left), Angela, Ben, Tuesday (middle), and Paula (right) with our abstract posters. (Click to view larger.)

After presenting my poster to the judges, I was able to view the graduate students’ posters. The  research poster topics ranged from social determinants of food insecurity to respiratory quotients in men related to blackberry consumption. The event concluded with a poster award ceremony. From our internship class, Angela won the “case study” category with her abstract poster “MNT in Stage 5 Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD): diet instruction with a cultural twist” and I was thrilled to have won the “special project” category with my poster “New Technology Tool: Aid in Eating Disorder Management.”

Me (left) and Angela (right) with our certificates of excellence for our abstract posters.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Hail to the Kidney!

Three years ago while visiting my family in Argentina, I had the opportunity to shadow a renal dietitian at a dialysis center. At that time, I knew little to nothing about the nutritional implications of renal disease or the role the kidney played in maintaining a balance of fluid and chemicals in the body. I learned a little about what a renal dietitian does during that visit, but perhaps more importantly, the exposure piqued my interest.  A few weeks ago, I completed a highly anticipated renal rotation where I learned so much about managing renal disease with nutrition and dialysis.  Nutritional therapy is critical to manage and slow the progression of renal disease from Chronic Kidney disease (CKD) to end-stage-renal disease (ESRD). Once the disease has progressed to ESRD, dialysis or kidney transplantation is required to stay alive. A dietitian can provide nutrition education critical for successful management of ESRD. Two key nutrients of concern in ESRD patients are phosphorus and albumin. These nutrients are the hardest laboratory values to keep within range.
Dialysis does a great job in removing the extra potassium and sodium from the body, but it is less effective with phosphorus or “Phos.” It is very important patients know how to control their dietary phosphorus intake.

So, why is phosphorus hard to control for people in dialysis? During my rotation I became aware that phosphorus is ubiquitous in foods. There are natural sources of phosphorus, such as from dairy products, fish and meat; additionally phosphorus is added to most processed foods, such as  Gatorade, twinkies, chocolate pudding, etc. I was able to teach patients how to read food labels to help them recognize and avoid foods that are either naturally high in phos or contain phosphorus additives. They should check the label for long words that contain “phos,” such as “monosodium phosphate,” “dicalcium phosphate,” etc.

Another important topic that I covered with patients was the importance of compliance with phosphate binders. Unfortunately, non-compliance was a common issue.  Since keeping phosphate within normal range is so difficult for most people undergoing dialysis, it is vital that they remember to take phosphate binders with each meal. For that purpose, I had fun delivering key chains designed specifically to carry the phosphate binding pills for patients to use when they will be away from home during meal times.


Another potential problem with ESRD is low blood levels of albumin. It was very unusual to see a patient with a normal level of this protein.

Albumin is the most abundant protein in our body. Our body needs protein to help build muscle, repair itself, and fight infections. Since so many patients on dialysis need to eat a good amount of quality protein, I made sure to discuss how to make good protein choices with the patients. It was very challenging, but critically important to tailor a diet specifically for their underlying disease; the diet typically needed to be high in protein but lower in sodium, potassium, and phosphorus.

After having this experience, I have a clearer understanding of the role the kidneys play in normal bodily function.  Additionally, I realize the importance of regulating key nutrients such as sodium, potassium, phosphorus, and protein when the kidneys are not functioning properly.  I was taken aback with renal nutrition three years ago because of the major impact diet plays in the outcome of this terrible disease. Now, after completing my renal rotation, I understand the complex, but fascinating world of renal nutrition a bit more. I am not only convinced that my true passion lies in renal nutrition, but also about the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle to help keep our kidneys healthy.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Maryland Day 2017

Saturday, April 29th was the 19th annual Maryland Day!  Each year, the University of Maryland (UMD) invites families, alumni, faculty, staff, students, and prospective students to “Explore [Their] World of Fearless Ideas.”  Maryland Day 2017 offered over 400 events all around campus and had 75,000 visitors!

This year’s Maryland Day featured events at multiple different “learning neighborhoods”:
  • Art & Design Place – The Art & Design place offered theater, music, and dance events, many of which involved getting the whole family up and moving!
  • Biz & Society Hall – Events in this neighborhood helped prepare you for the professional world! The Department of Communication offered events to conquer speech anxiety and improve writing.
  • Science & Tech Way – Learn food safety 101 and the importance of hand washing in this neighborhood!
  • Sports & Rec Row - This neighborhood was all about games, physical activity, and living a healthy lifestyle. It featured a rock wall, family yoga and dance sessions, sand volleyball, gymnastics and acrobatics, elements of a challenge course, and some free health screenings.  Since a good diet is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, the UMD School of Nursing at Shady Grove shared dietary guidance related to obesity, diabetes, and hypertension.
  • Terp Town Center – Everything you can imagine happened in the middle of Maryland’s campus. BikeUMD offered free bike valet for all attendees, there were 1-hour campus walking tours, the Counseling Center offered mental health and wellness sessions, and UMD chefs discussed initiatives to support food security for everyone.
  • Ag Day Avenue – This is where our booth was.  Located in the courtyard of the Animal Sciences Building, our table featured information about portion sizes, sugar sweetened beverages, and how to build a healthy plate. We had information for everyone - from preschoolers to adults!
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We also had a corn hole game for kids! Instead of a traditional corn hole game where the two boards are placed across from each other, our boards were placed next to each other to make it easier for kids to get their bean bags in the holes.  When placed next to each other, our boards illustrated a healthy plate!  The kids had a lot of fun with the game, most of them wanting to play multiple times. Their prizes were a MyPlate coloring book with a word-search and crossword puzzle, and a pack of crayons.

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People of all ages were interested in our table!  My fellow interns and I greeted visitors to our table and answered their questions on nutrition.  People asked about food myths (i.e. “I heard pineapple was bad for you”) and for more information on how to build a healthy plate.  Many  were shocked at the amount of sugar in sodas and sports drinks. We helped them see why water and unsweetened beverages are a better choice. Our table also featured three examples of healthy plates, complete with food models.  One kid even showed off his food knowledge by naming all the foods on the plates!  We gave our visitors handouts to take home and hopefully inspired them to eat a healthier diet.
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I really enjoyed my time at Maryland Day.  I had fun playing with the kids and teaching people about nutrition.  As a bonus, I even got to take home an herb plant which I’ll use in cooking endeavors! For more information about Maryland Day or to see the hundreds of events you might be able to expect next year, visit:

Monday, April 24, 2017

Food Insecurity in Montgomery County

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Over 42 million Americans suffer from food insecurity, which is over 13% of people in the U.S. People are considered food insecure if they do not have reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. In other words, someone who is food insecure may not know where their next meal is going to come from or may fear that they will run out of food before they have money to buy more. In Montgomery County, Maryland, around 80,000 people are food insecure, including many children. This, along with other things I learned during my rotation at the Manna Food Center, has inspired me to write this blog post.

Food Insecurity in Montgomery County

According to Montgomery County Public Schools, over 30,000 elementary school students are eligible for Free and Reduced Meals (FARM), but only 11% of those are actively participating in the FARM program. Other programs aimed at reducing food insecurity are the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Unfortunately, some Americans don’t know about these programs or don’t know how to enroll in them. To help increase enrollment in these programs, some local organizations offer information, resources, and services to food-insecure members of the community. The Montgomery County Food Security Collaborative partners with other local organizations to address this issue. Their mission is to reduce hunger in Montgomery County by 2020 by redistributing fresh, perishable food and increasing collaboration among businesses, non-profits, food providers, and families in need for this purpose. Their partners include Manna Food Center, Women Who Care Ministries, GaithersburgHELP, Full Plate Ventures, and more. I also recently heard about Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA), which helps low-income individuals prepare taxes free of charge. There are many dietitians who volunteer to help sign these individuals up for food assistance programs while they are waiting for their appointment.

Get Involved

If you’ve read this far and you would like to help reduce food insecurity in your community, one of the easiest ways to get involved is to volunteer your time to a local food bank. Other ways to get involved include donating money or food, organizing a fundraiser, or organizing a food drive. I volunteered at Manna Food Center by helping put together boxes of food for distribution. Each box consisted of fresh fruits and vegetables, non-perishable canned and boxed goods, a few pounds of protein foods, and bread. For most families, it was enough food to last two to three days. That may not sound like much, but it could be the difference between eating and going without until the next paycheck.  

Food Insecurity and Health

Good nutrition is one of the most important factors that affects a person’s health. People who suffer from food insecurity are also at risk for developing chronic illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. I want to continue to help these individuals by reducing food insecurity and promoting good nutritional health wherever and whenever I can. One way that I was able to do this during my rotation at Manna was to create educational inserts for the food boxes. These inserts accompanied boxes that were designated for special diets. For example, some of the inserts were related to diabetes. Each diabetes insert contained information about diabetes and how it relates to food and had a recipe using five or fewer ingredients so that clients could learn new ways to use the foods that are provided for them to create healthy meals. I’ve included an example below for you to see. This concept can continue to be expanded on so that every box that a client takes home has good, nutritious foods and information that will help make Montgomery County healthier and happier.

Diabetes Myths

Monday, April 17, 2017

Joint Class Day: Nutrition Taking A Frontline Role in the Military

The Walter Reed National Medical Center is one of the nation’s largest military medical centers, and it’s located right in Bethesda, MD! Earlier this spring, our class was able to attend a joint class day to gain a deeper insight on the role RDs play in nourishing the country’s military. Many dietitians influence the success of the US Military, whether they deal directly with the civilian or military population. The nutritional health of civilians determines how many civilians are eligible to become a part of the military. Once enlisted, soldiers are expected to maximize their health and performance, but this isn’t always happening. Currently, 5% of active duty soldiers are prescribed sleep medications, 5% fail their Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) and 13% are clinically obese. The Performance Triad has been designed to address these issues.

The Performance Triad is a strategic initiative aimed at improving soldier performance by targeting the areas of sleep, physical activity and nutrition. Each of these categories have targets and goals that soldiers work toward in order to maximize their performance:

  • Get 8 hours of quality sleep per 24 hour period
  • Go caffeine free 6 hours before bedtime
Physical Activity
  • Aim for at least 10,000 steps per day, with the ideal goal of getting an additional 5,000 steps throughout the day
  • Include at least 2 days of resistance training per week, plus one day of agility training
  • Incorporate at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise, plus 75 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise per week
  • Eat at least 8 servings of fruits and vegetables per day
  • Re-fuel 30-60 minutes after strenuous exercise

Nutrition is now on the frontlines of improving military effectiveness. Accomplishing these nutritional targets and goals requires teamwork. It starts with meal planning so that the right nutrients are available. The diet developed to support the Performance Triad consists of 4,875 kcal and 155 g pro, strategically timed as follows:

Breakfast (06:00)
Hot Line and Beverages
1,000 kcal/40 g protein

Morning Snack (09:00)
Complex carb, produce, protein source
500 kcal/10 g protein

Lunch (12:00)
Meal Ready-to- Eat (MRE)
1,345 kcal/45 g pro

Afternoon Snack (15:00)
Complex carb, produce, protein source
500 kcal/10 g protein

Dinner (18:00)
Hot Line with Beverages, Salad Bar and Dessert
1,200 kcal/45 g protein

Midnight Snack (23:00)
Complex carb, produce
350 kcal, 5 g pro

I am surprised to see how much higher, the recommendations are for the active duty military compared to those for the civilian population, but providing all those calories helps support the increased physical activity of active duty military members. This meal pattern is coupled with nutrition education that teaches the importance of different nutrients and promotes increased fruit and vegetable intake. To make it easier green, yellow and red labels are used to make healthier choices immediately identifiable with one glance. Green foods should be eaten often, yellow occasionally and red avoided.

The Performance Triad has shown to increase fruit and vegetable intake by 1.5 servings/day, as well as increase the frequency of refueling after exercise. Food is fuel and this program is the perfect example of the impact food choices have on overall health and performance!

Learning how the military is shifting its focus to nutrition was very encouraging to hear as a dietetic intern. Research has proven that proper nutrition improves performance and the military is listening! As the focus on nutrition continues, RDs will need to continue their advocacy and research to support and empower our country’s military.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Renal Nutrition Class Day

One of my favorite things about being an “almost dietitian” is that there are so many career options: clinical, community, communications, and food service to name a few. The possibilities seem endless! Along with fellow University of Maryland dietetic interns, I recently visited a DaVita Dialysis Center in Annapolis to learn about renal nutrition from several Registered Dietitians (RDs) and other experts.

Fellow intern, Julia, and me at our renal nutrition class day.

The day started out with a brief dialysis overview which touched on the different stages of Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD), including when dialysis is needed (stage IV and V), and what the dialyzer does and how it works. It really helped me understand the incredible filtering capability and limitations of the dialyzer, which will be helpful when I am counseling patients. The next speaker dove a little bit deeper into the stages of CKD by explaining how nutrition needs are different in each stage. She also discussed different options for dialysis home modalities. Before this day, I had no clue that doing dialysis at home was even an option! How cool – and convenient!

Next on the agenda was the renal nutrition lecture which covered calorie, protein, fluid, and mineral (specifically sodium, phosphorus, and calcium) requirements for patients receiving dialysis and their “lab value goals.”  I learned that no two patients are alike. It is important for RDs to tailor their care to fit each individual’s lifestyle and meet their specialized needs. As the disease progresses, patients’ needs will likely change, and dietitians can help them transition their diets.

The last speaker talked to us about the role of a renal dietitian at DaVita including their day-to-day responsibilities, their electronic medical record system, and what to expect when working with dialysis patients. This lecture was particularly valuable because it opened my eyes to what life would be like as a renal dietitian.

During the day, DaVita’s divisional vice president popped in to welcome us, share his experience working with DaVita, and answer our questions.  All of the speakers seemed very passionate about their work and were very knowledgeable. Overall, I learned a lot from this day and feel more prepared for my renal rotation. I am looking forward to learning even more during my renal rotation next month.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Celebrating National Nutrition Month at UMD

What better way to spend National Nutrition Month than promoting healthy lifestyles to the University of Maryland’s (UMD) students and staff? During my 3 week long rotation with UMD’s dining services, my internship partner and I created “Wellness Walls” with fun posters and infographics filled with tips about nutrition, exercise, cooking, and healthy recipes. Our artsy and creative sides were definitely put to work!

To encourage informed meal choices and variety, we focused on a different food group for each week of March. With fun colors, titles, and pictures, we encouraged our audience to live healthier lifestyles. It was a great time for us to promote healthy habits since the University advanced to “Any-time dining” halls, offering all-you-can-eat food. Some of our tips included: switching from regular to low-fat milk, looking for whole grain ingredients, and eating a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables. We even created some content in Spanish, in order to reach out to employees whose first language was Spanish. Although we were only there for 3 weeks, we were able to design ahead of time and create content for all 4 weeks of National Nutrition month:

Week 1: “Live a Legen-dairy Lifestyle” focused on choosing healthy dairy options, such as low-fat milk in order to reduce saturated fat intake, while still getting the same vitamins and minerals as whole milk!

Week 2: “Lettuce Turnip the Beet” focused on the importance eating a variety of fruits and vegetables. According to CDC’s 2013 State Indicator Report on Fruits and Vegetables, an average of 37.6% of Maryland adults and adolescents reported eating less than 1 fruit per day and 30.9% reported eating less than 1 vegetable per day. Hopefully our wall encouraged UMD students and staff to reach for fruits and veggies more often!

Week 3: “Promote Health with Protein” introduced different protein sources and snack ideas to promote strong muscles. We made sure to include plant-based protein for those who don’t eat meat!

Week 4: “Use Your Brain, Choose Whole Grains” introduced a variety of whole grains and their benefits, such as a healthier GI tract!
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We had an "egg-cellent" time trying out some "punny" titles for our Wellness Walls! Aside from putting together these walls, we also participated in tabling events inside one of the diners, where we distributed handouts about a different food group each week. It was great seeing students eager to learn more about nutrition. In addition, we helped put together newsletters and wrote blogs for the campus’ student nutritionists.  Working on all of these unique projects during this rotation made me realize how much I love being creative.  

National Nutrition Month is a great time to focus on improving eating habits. Even though the month just ended, I hope the UMD students and staff will continue to put their best forks forward.

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Art of Mastering a Nutrition Education

It was 9 weeks ago but I remember it like it was yesterday. My hands were shaking and a glistening sheen of perspiration had appeared on my forehead. I was unable to create any coherent thoughts; I was about to give my first nutrition education to a patient. My first nutrition education was a weight loss education for a 500lb patient. I left this man’s room questioning the effectiveness of my education. Now that I am nearing the end of this clinical rotation, I like to think I’ve become more proficient in delivering nutrition education to patients. Here are a few things I’ve learned to help me in educating patients.
Meet People Where They Are
To put it simply, “meet people where they are” means inferring and understanding how likely they are to make dietary changes in their life. Most of the patients I educated did not seem interested in altering their diets. To meet them where they were, I usually tried and find one easy change they could make to their diet and have them focus their efforts there. In the case of the 500lb man, meeting him where he was involved understanding the difficulties that come with weight loss, his age, and his motivation to actually lose weight. This was a middle aged man who had been carrying extra weight his whole life and he had expressed several times his interest in an outpatient weight loss clinic. To meet this patient where he is, we decided that switching from regular soda to diet soda would be the easiest change to make that would promote weight loss.
Handouts can be a very useful tool when providing nutrition education. Some patients are in pain, half conscious, or uninterested in changing their diet, so they may not hear or retain dietary guidance when it is provided; this is where handouts come into play. Many professional organizations offer online nutrition education handouts. I prefer using handouts from the Nutrition Care Manual (NCM). The NCM is a product of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and contains a section on client education with general information about nutrition and varying disease states. Each handout features the relation between nutrition and the disease, foods allowed and foods to avoid, and a sample 1-day menu that follows the prescribed diet, all formatted in a professional manner. The handouts are a great resource for dietetic interns or new dietitians, too, as they can be a prompt for important points to cover with patients.

A sneak peek at the NCM diet education page
Practice, Practice, Practice
As the old cliché goes, practice makes perfect. In my opinion, nothing prepares you for delivering nutrition educations more than practice. At my clinical site, we would receive a fair number of nutrition education consults which allowed for plenty of practice. On days where my floors lacked education consults, I would ask the dietitians on the other floors to send me any education consults they received. Being able to practice has helped me find a balance between simplifying the educations while giving enough detail to highlight what is most important nutritionally for each patient.

Although I am not yet an expert educator, I have learned a lot about providing sound, actionable nutrition education to patients.  I plan to use these three approaches to continue to hone my counselling skills.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Food & Friends Joint Class Day: Building Community to Promote Health

Eating nutritious meals each day is essential for everyone to maintain a healthy body, especially those suffering from critical illnesses. On Monday, March 13, the University of Maryland (UMD) College Park Dietetic Interns joined interns from several other programs in the area for a joint class day at Food & Friends in NE, DC. We all worked together to prepare and package healthy meals for clients who require special meals because of their illness. It was a day filled with learning, collaborating, and volunteering to help those around the community who suffer from critical illnesses receive healthy food.

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The Food & Friends website states, “Food & Friends is the only home-visiting nutrition service that delivers hope by the meal -- specialized, fresh, delicious.” Food & Friends is a nonprofit that employs about 50 staff members and benefits from ~9,000 volunteers per year to “foster a community caring for men, women, and children living with HIV/AIDS, cancer, and other life-threatening illnesses by preparing and delivering specialized meals and groceries in conjunction with nutrition counseling.” On our day of volunteering, we were able to actively participate in the kitchen by expediting meals or helping to package groceries-to-go.

Additionally, on our joint class day we had the opportunity to meet two Registered Dietitians (RDs), Priscilla Dhas, Nutrition Services Manager, and Anna Kinard, Community Dietitian. They explained that the dietitians at Food & Friends provide personalized nutrition counseling, develop 11 specific meal plans for each diet need, perform nutrient analyses, instruct cooking classes, create educational handouts, ensure quality control, and participate on various committees.

Our class day at Food & Friends was great because we were able to collaborate with interns from other programs, actively participate in the preparation of food for the clients, and learn from several lectures given by RDs. Joint class days are nice because interns have the opportunity to see other interns, but today was extra fun because we actually got to work side by side with people we didn’t know. At the beginning of the day, everyone was assigned to one of two groups, which prevented us from sticking with our usual partners. The groups took turns volunteering in the kitchen and learning from the lectures. We were also provided a delicious lunch!

Prior to volunteering at Food & Friends, I didn’t know an organization like this existed. However, I do think organizations like Food & Friends are necessary, especially for those who need special diets and have serious nutrition needs or considerations due to their medical therapies! Moreover, this experience was very insightful as I learned that Food & Friends has no requirements for income.  It serves those with life threatening diseases, compromised nutritional status and a limited ability to prepare their own meals. A lot of people don't have a caretaker who can prepare and deliver meals everyday and this area is where Food & Friends really helps. Caretakers typically have to juggle their job, house, and family in addition to now helping their loved ones or in some cases their neighbor or friend go to appointments and receive adequate food. Food and Friends is making a tremendous difference in the lives of both those living with a serious illness and those who are taking care of the patient. Finally, this experience showed me another work option for RDs!