How to Prepare for National Nutrition Month in Long-Term Care

Every March, dietitians, food service managers and nutrition services employees everywhere celebrate National Nutrition Month. This year’s slogan is “Celebrate a World of Flavors,” which draws some much-needed attention to the idea that nutrition is not a one-size-fits-all conversation. Good nutrition, tasty foods, and the professionals who work in the field come to the table with all kinds of different cultural backgrounds, food traditions and unique talents that help create an expression of vibrant colors, exquisite flavors and people who care about the health and wellness of others.

No matter where you work as a registered dietitian, we hope you embrace the opportunity to celebrate all things nutrition this March with the staff at your facility and the residents who consider it their home. Long-term care facilities are particularly fun to plan weekly events during the entire month of March. With an extended length of stay, the residents will really look forward to seeing nutrition-related events advertised on the bulletin boards in the hallways and will likely plan to attend everything you have to offer.

Fun Nutrition Activities for Residents

Offer a special menu for your residents that illuminates how a nutritious meal cannot only look good but taste delicious too. Work with the food service manager on planning a meal that emphasizes the use of colorful, fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. Advertise the meal ahead of time to ensure you get an accurate count of how many people wish to participate so you have plenty of supplies. As a bonus, consider providing a dessert that is lower in sugar for a treat at the end of the meal. Be mindful of your residents on modified diets so that they can participate too. This might mean planning a menu that suits almost everyone no matter their restrictions or coming up with an alternative for your residents with dysphagia.

Plan a cooking demonstration for the residents with the help of your food service manager. Ask the residents if they would rather see a traditional Chinese stir fry, their favorite Italian dish, or perhaps French crepes being made. Let the aroma of the cooking waft through the facility and provide small samples at the end of the program.

Host “Nutrition Jeopardy!” in the dining room following lunch one day. Split the room into two sides and have the groups choose team names. Most people enjoy a friendly competition once in a while, and it’s a great way to educate your residents about nutrition.

Provide a “Nutrition Education Series” for residents and their families according to your facility’s visitation protocols. Interesting topics may include portion control, heart healthy diet recommendations, consistent carbohydrate diet guidance for improved blood sugar control, or what it means to be vegetarian. The use of food models and empty food packaging for label reading come in handy for this type of community talk.

Prepare written handouts and display them in the lobby or cafeteria for the residents to take what interests them. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has many tip sheets and handouts, so you don’t have to worry about recreating the wheel.

Invite the Staff to Celebrate Too

Announce a “Question of the Day” over the intercom and reward the first caller who gives the correct answer with a small prize or free lunch.

Create or print out a nutrition-related word search or crossword puzzle that the staff can complete and return to you. Draw a few winners at the end of the month!

Make an “Ask the Dietitian” question box as a way for staff to have their questions answered related to nutrition and healthy living. The questions and answers can be posted for all to read and learn something new.

Organize a canned food drive. Invite staff to donate non-perishable food items to a central location in your facility for the entire month of March. Then deliver the donations to a local food pantry.

Whatever you decide to do to celebrate, National Nutrition Month will surely be enjoyed by all. The key is to get as many people involved as possible and emphasize that, although we are all different, good nutrition is universal and should be celebrated together to keep our world as flavorful and healthy as the food we all eat!

Sarah Hammaker, RDN

Sarah Hammaker, RDN is a clinical dietitian working primarily in long-term care and acute rehabilitation hospital settings in Pennsylvania. Outside of work, Sarah enjoys spending time with her husband and their four children. She loves running and being outdoors. Her hobbies include reading, planting and shopping.

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