March is National Nutrition Month, which has me reflecting on my tour of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. One of the things that struck me about my visit there was the incredible amount of detail paid to every single aspect of health – which, naturally, includes nutrition.
We started our tour of St. Jude with a presentation by Chef Miles McMath, where he explained the extensive care that goes into their food, along with some samplers for us to taste. It all starts with the St. Jude garden, where organic vegetables are grown as part of an edible landscape. The staff were up at 6 AM picking fresh greens that went into the spring roll pictured above! Not only does this give Chef Miles the freshest produce to work with, but growing their own food also saves donor money that can be allotted for other needs. It all comes circle with the kitchen composting everything they can back into the garden.
Chef Miles stressed the importance of providing healthy meals for the patients as they recover. In addition to the fresh produce, they also use all the best cuts of meat, with all-grass-fed beef based on research regarding vitamin content in addition to the fact that it is better tolerated by the patients in his opinion.
The utmost care is given to crafting a diet that will help each patient as much as possible during their treatment, with nutrition therapies provided as needed during treatment, along with diet guidance to build good habits after treatment; but half the battle is just getting the patients to eat in the first place. It’s no secret that a side effect of chemotherapy is nausea and loss of appetite, so one of the things St. Jude is looking at is how tastebuds change during chemo.
Among the ways that they encourage patients to eat is by having patient taste testings to find out what the best-tasting health foods are, and allowing children to make food choices – for example, encouraging children with “Make your own pizza day” where they have control over what they make (And lots of good veggies toppings to choose from!). This helps children feel empowered, and in turn can help them to eat more. Chef Miles related the story of when he asked one patient if she’d like to make a pizza, and she told him she wasn’t hungry but would like to make one for her mom. She had fun making it – and ended up taking a few bites of the pizza herself! Even if a child can only eat a few small bites of food, this is taken into account so that the staff can give them less IV nutritional fluids, so every little bite truly counts.
Another way that St. Jude makes every bite count is with Sour Gems. These special gummies are packed with the protein and calories that young patients so crucially need.
Celebrating National Nutrition Month
Nutrition plays a critical role in all our lives. Here are some simple ways that you can celebrate National Nutrition Month with your family:
- Let your kids help you prepare dinner. Just like the patients at St. Jude creating their own pizza, children in your life can also benefit from getting involved with their meal prep! Give them a smorgasboard of vegetables to choose from and start with something simple, like making a “Pizza” on a whole wheat muffin. Kids can feel proud of what they’re making, get encouragement to try new things, and build their culinary skills for later in life.
- Share a healthy meal with someone. It puts things into perspective to remember just how crucial nutrition is. During my tour of St. Jude, we had the privilege of serving dinner at Grizzlies House to patients, their families, staff and supporters of St. Jude. I was in charge of serving up Baked Ziti, and my blogger friends stood next to me and dished out other yummy dishes – it was an honor that I won’t ever forget. In the same vein, you might consider taking the family to volunteer at a soup kitchen, cook up a healthy meal to share with a friend, donate canned goods to the food bank, or send a donation to support the Food Services department at St. Jude. This is a good way to remind ourselves how lucky we are to have access to healthy foods!
- Learn about nutrition together. Nutrition.gov has a wealth of resources for teaching your kids about nutrition, including fun games, printable and activities. Let your kids ask questions, and look up the answers together!
- Plant a garden. Set aside a small spot in the yard – or get a planter if you don’t have a yard – and let your kids pick out seeds and help you plant them. What better way to get excited about trying fresh veggies than growing them yourself?
How do you teach your children about nutrition?