Sharon Collier, MEd, RD, Clinical Nutrition director of the Clinical Nutrition Service, and Jenna Davis, acting director of Food Services
What role do dietitians play in getting inpatients to eat
SC: I have to preface my answer by saying it's
very difficult for us. When patients are admitted to the hospital,
they're here for a very short period of time and are often very
sick. Our main goal is often just to get them to eat anything at
Our dietitians in the Clinical
Nutrition Service do not meet with every patient that is admitted
to the hospital. In fact, we only meet with about 25 to 50 percent
of them. We are brought into the plan of care in a few different
ways—through a direct request from the physician, nurse or
parent; through a diet or formula order or a particular diagnosis
like an eating disorder; or through a screening process performed
by a diet technician after the patient has been in the hospital
for 72 hours.
The time we spend with inpatients is not always conducive to working
in the message of healthy eating, and many times there may be more
important things to consider.
Can you provide an example?
SC: I've been struggling with a patient who has
to undergo supplemental tube feedings at night because she isn't
eating enough during the day. She just recently started to eat more
on her own, but two of her favorite foods are chicken fingers and
onion rings. She asks for them repeatedly—sometimes twice
a day. While chicken fingers and onion rings aren't the healthiest
foods she could be eating, at this point, any foods she eats are
good because they will allow her to get off the feeding tube.
We don't want patients to be dependent on tube feeding or intravenous
nutrition, as they are abnormal ways to be nutritionally supported.
If patients can eat on their own and tolerate the food, then we
tell them to eat what they like. It's not the answer everyone wants
to hear, but in terms of what we're dealing with here in the hospital,
it's often the best we can do.
How do Food Services and the Clinical Nutrition Service
work together to care for patients?
JD: We collaborate on Room Service, an in-room
food service that allows patients to order meals through a restaurant-style
menu that includes appetizers, main dishes, side dishes, desserts,
etc. The meals are served within 45 minutes of the order. The Clinical
Nutrition Service diet technicians oversee certain meal plans and
specialized diets, which are then processed and prepared by the
Food Services staff.
SC: Room Service has been very well-received.
In the past, kids had a hard time deciding a whole day in advance
what they wanted to eat the following day. This allows them to decide
right before they are ready to eat.
What foods do patients request the most?
JD: Typical kid-friendly items like macaroni and
cheese, chicken tenders, hamburgers, French fries, etc., are requested
SC: It's interesting to hear what foods are requested
most by patients. You'll see they're the ones that tend to be higher
in fat that we wouldn't necessarily consider healthy, but they are,
as Jenna said, "kid-friendly." When you think about it, these foods
could be considered "comfort foods." To a child, they could be associated
with feeling better. So if chicken fingers are going to make a child
feel better, even if they are higher in fat and higher in sodium,
then we shouldn't deny them to the child, especially if he is very
How does healthy eating affect foods offered by Food Services?
JD: We're currently working on an initiative to
provide healthy food options for patients and employees. We look
for healthy alternatives for our most popular selling items, such
as fried foods, which are now cooked in oil that doesn't contain
trans fats. Trans fat, which is used in many foods, including fried
foods, cookies and pastries, increases "bad" cholesterol and lowers
"good" cholesterol. It clogs arteries, increases the risk of heart
disease and can cause Type II diabetes and other health problems.
We also ensure that we have fresh fruit and a rotating salad bar.
How have fad diets—Atkins, South Beach, the Zone,
etc.ˇaffected what is offered by Food Services?
JD: We have initiated some low-carb options and
changed some of the vegetable sides and the salad bar to help accommodate
our dieting customers. But the majority of our customers don't take
part in these diets, so we still offer our regular menu items. Surprisingly
enough, our most popular cafeteria items are the fried fisherman's
platter, chicken bar, the complete turkey dinner and the spicy buffalo
chicken wrap—none of which really adhere to the fad diets.
What other healthy eating projects are you working on?
SC: There's an initiative in the Office of Child
Advocacy called "Nutrition and Fitness" that is working on how best
to reach out to the Boston community about healthy eating. I think
the most impact can be made at the school and community levels,
where you can work with parents and children, starting at an early
age. The goal is to try to help families learn to eat well so those
habits can last a lifetime.