"The Produce Posse" Promotes Healthy Eating in a Hospital Setting

Northwestern Medicine
Health and Wellness March 19, 2019
When a child receives care at Lurie Children’s at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital, doctors and nurses play an important role – but so do registered dietitians.

“When I see a pediatric patient, my first concern is – can they eat? Then it’s – are they eating?” says Beth Gordon, MS, RD, LDN, a registered dietitian at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital. “Many parents are extremely worried about their child not eating, so I offer a variety of ideas to fit in foods and fluids during the child’s illness.”

This March, Gordon and her colleagues tried a new idea to encourage pediatric patients at Central DuPage Hospital to eat healthy. Dietitians dressed up as fruits and vegetables – including an avocado, carrot, pineapple, chili pepper, peapod, strawberry and even a farmer. They hosted a “farm fun” themed party on the Pediatrics Unit with games, coloring activities, painting with vegetables and much more. The dietitians call themselves “The Produce Posse.”

“Every March, we do something special to celebrate National Nutrition Month, which focuses on promoting healthy eating and physical activity habits,” explains Laura Yudys, MS, RD, LDN, a manager and registered dietitian at Central DuPage Hospital. “This year, we wanted to do a fun, educational activity for our pediatric patients and their families. After all, who loves parties more than kids?”

The dietitians also went room-to-room in their costumes and met with pediatric patients and caregivers, answering any questions they have regarding nutrition and healthy eating habits – which can be tricky when a child is in the hospital.

“When kids don’t feel well, sometimes healthy eating needs to be put on the back burner and we’ll work on just getting them to eat in general,” says Gordon. “Once they feel better, then we can get back to healthier options.”

Gordon offers five helpful tips to fit in foods and fluids during a child’s illness:

  • Provide them with small, frequent meals and/or snacks – sometimes it’s easier for kids to eat snacks throughout the day

  • Make specialty-shaped foods (ex: Mickey Mouse pancakes)

  • Smoothies and ice cream shakes get both food and fluids in them at the same time

  • Popsicles and Italian ice offer a great alternative for fluids and are cold/soothing for kids who have fevers or sore throats

  • Purchase food from the child’s favorite restaurant as long as it works within safety policies and dietary restrictions

“It’s all about looking at the big picture and helping children maintain and thrive while ill,” adds Gordon. “Don’t get me wrong, I would love it if all kids could have a balanced diet of lean proteins, fruits, veggies and whole grains, but realistically that isn’t always the case when they’re sick.”

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Day is also celebrated during March, recognizing registered dietitian nutritionists for their commitment to help people live healthy lives. Yudys tells her patients to try and remember the 90/10 rule – which is her take on moderation.

“About 90 percent of the time, eat in a way that nourishes your body and helps you maintain a healthy weight and prevent disease. The other 10 percent of the time, allow yourself the flexibility to enjoy foods that may not provide optimal nutritional value, but make you happy,” says Yudys. “We’re not asking our patients to be perfect, but we do want them to strive to improve and eat better.”

For more information and resources on how to create a balanced meal, Yudys recommends choosemyplate.gov, which offers tips from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

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