01 09 10 Tweet Dietitians Eat Chocolate Too: FNCE 2008 "Dietetic Interns Step Outside the Box and Create an Employee Wellness Program"

Saturday, November 1, 2008

FNCE 2008 "Dietetic Interns Step Outside the Box and Create an Employee Wellness Program"

Hello everyone.

Thought I'd do some shameless self promotion and get right to the meat of this year's Food Nutrition Convention and Expo (FNCE) the Mecca of the nation's RD's/nutritionistas/calorie snobs/foodies. I didn't spend oodles of time at the event, however I did come up on Tuesday to present my awesome poster that I had done during my internship program. It was really a great experience.

First off, if you ever have an opportunity to become active in your local organizations, whether it's the ADA, PTA, or even a civic club meeting, it's a wonderful opportunity to delve into your own interests, meet others who share your interests, and network (hey you may get or give career advice).

My poster which I did with my internship partner Heather was based on a nutrition wellness program we were starting to implement at the University of Maryland College Park South Campus Dining Hall. It was a Rose Mary's Baby of sorts to pull together, but having the honor of it being posted in a national convention and other professionals/colleagues/students take a gander at it made it worth all the while.

The main purpose of the program was to get the dining hall staff to eat healthier...what we didn't expect was that there were socioeconomic/language barriers that limited what we could do. Also, the managers (college educated professionals) gave us little time to interact with the employees to figure out what they wanted and what their needs are.
  1. A nutrition program or intervention is only as good as how you can meet your client/patient on their level.
  2. When working with the food insecure, calories/satiety/food safety take precedence over nutrition. I'd rather have someone eat Twinkies if that's what they can afford, than food that's been sitting out.

So we improvised. Instead of running a traditional focus group, we rounded up one of the employees who was bilingual and during their down time between lunch and dinner we were able to see what they cared about (women are more interested in providing healthy meals for their family, men=exercise--no new surprises), what topics they were interested, and finally tried to meet them on these levels. We also used campus food to show what "healthy plates" look like since employees are allowed a free meal (whatever they can stick on their tray) every day. Now, to be honest, these people were well-nourished but rather lean. My goal was mostly for them to get a few pieces of produce on their plate, not eat less, since this might have been their only meal of the day. This is one of those times when you can quote Marie Antoinette and say Let them eat cake!

So what did we do?

To summarize the kick off of this program we used the KISS principle (Keep It Simple Stupid). If literacy is a problem, use pictures. We had photos of healthy items, not so healthy items and using the hedonic scale, we had a smiley face or sad face (we actually used turtles for the Terps but hey you get the point). For the language barrier, we had recipes (my goal was for the mostly Hispanic population to "lighten" up their favorite cultural foods) in English/Spanish, and other tips in both languages. This wasn't an entire nutrition overall, it wasn't biggest loser, but it was showing the employees that they're not the cog in the wheel, college students wouldn't get fed, which out dining services staff and the most rewarding part of the program was allowing the employees to know their voices and health is a concern for the University of Maryland regardless of their economic status.