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.

No comments:

Post a Comment