Digging into the Internship

By Anna Ziegler

Wow, was I excited to hear that I would be working outside all day for my second rotation! I was ready to be out in the fresh, fall air and finding out what sustainable farming was all about. Growing up in the city, I had no experience with farming and had no idea what to expect but was eager to find out. 

During this rotation of the internship, I worked at the Terp Farm in Upper Marlboro and the UMD Campus Pantry. At Terp Farm, Guy and Nicole led my internship partner, Myranda, and me through the process of harvesting sweet potatoes and a variety of peppers. Right away we learned that a lot of hard work goes into efficient harvesting. Even with muddy hands and an aching back, I decided the effort was worth it. This was the first year Terp Farm grew sweet potatoes. Guy said we were his guinea pigs since we were the first interns helping him harvest them. On the first day we harvested 10 buckets full of sweet potatoes and even found one that was the size of my head! 

The peppers we harvested included jalapenos, banana peppers, chileno peppers and poblano peppers. I learned how to tell when each type of pepper was ready to be picked. There was a rhythm of twisting the crops off the vines and cutting off the vines, which I found therapeutic. While Nicole, Myranda, and I harvested, we discussed how important mental health is and how gardening and mindfulness go hand in hand. Gardening can help us disconnect from our daily stressors, focus on the task at hand and reconnect us to nature. 

Terp Farm is a sustainable farming operation, which means it is able to produce crops without compromising the ability of future generations to meet its needs. It is on two acres of land and offers four-season vegetable production that usually is provided to the campus dining halls, catering, Green tidings mobile dining food truck, and donated to food-insecure members of the campus and community. Due to the circumstances with covid-19, all of the crops are now being donated to the UMD campus pantry. During this rotation, I was able to volunteer twice at the campus pantry and it was amazing to see the crops I helped harvest be given out to students and staff members. The Campus Pantry works hard to eliminate food hardships at the UMD College Park campus by providing a variety of good quality and nutritious food. While volunteering there, I helped unpack donations, organized the fresh produce, screened for quality, sorted items, and restocked items when low. The Campus Pantry has a goal of creating a hunger free campus and, with the amount of effort I saw them put in, they are on the road to success. 

Overall, I am so grateful I was able to gain a better understanding of how food is grown and learn about sustainable farming. I had no idea how much work, planning, and patience it took to maintain a farm. Terp Farm puts many efforts towards sustainable farming and strives to protect the health of the environment.  As a future dietitian, I think it is important to have hands-on experience in order to educate the community about local food systems. I left Terp Farm with a lot of mud in my boots but even more knowledge. 

An Unexpected Foodservice Experience

By Hannah Etman and Rachel Eldering

Six months ago, the thought of interning virtually with a detention center never crossed our minds. Being a dietetic intern at a detention center comes with its own set of questions. What roles do dietitians perform in corrections? How will we be able to help? In school, we studied many aspects of dietetics, such as working at hospitals or food banks, but our profession covers so many different areas of life. Without any prior knowledge of the special needs of inmates and the unique challenges of a detention foodservice operation, we were excited to learn all we could about corrections dietetics. Our 3-week rotation took place remotely with Frederick County Adult Detention Center (FCADC). Working from home presented a unique challenge but, ultimately, we found many exciting and surprising takeaways from the experience. 

Foodservice in a corrections facility differs from other foodservice organizations in unique ways. When knives are in use, they must be secured by a “leash” to the leg of a table that is bolted to the floor so they cannot be removed. The kitchen utensils are inventoried three times a day and must be signed out every time they are in use. If a utensil goes missing the center is locked down until the utensil is found. 

FCADC has made precautionary changes because of covid-19, many of which have been in the foodservice department. There is now less staff working in the kitchen to facilitate social distancing. Due to having fewer employees in the kitchen, many meals have moved from scratch-cooking to pre-prepared foods. This can be more expensive, however, it is necessary to keep everyone safe. 

FCADC is a provider for Frederick County’s Meals on Wheels Program. The meals are prepared by two inmates with the help of dietary officers, then other inmates help them tray up the meals. They are able to serve 13 different routes and two meals daily to each client. 

Like many foodservice organizations, FCADC provides special meal options. There are medical diets, such as cardiac, prenatal, and GERD available to inmates that have medical documentation. Additionally, inmates with allergies must have them medically documented in order to receive an allergy diet. The facility also accommodates vegan, vegetarian, and religious diets, and does not serve pork for any meal. Food preferences are not accommodated due to complications that may arise from having differing meals.

Seeing the varying benefits that our projects would bring to FCADC was an exciting and rewarding part of our experience. Initially, we were tasked with creating two infographics, which we entitled The Benefits of Exercise and A Guide to Staying Hydrated. For our first assignment, we created two infographics, entitled “The Benefits of Exercise” and “A Guide to Staying Hydrated.” These were created to be displayed to the inmates through the facility’s television system and had to be designed concisely, only containing information that would be of use to the inmates. A challenge was figuring out exactly what information we had to work with—for example, we discussed foods with high water content for the hydration infographic but ultimately could only list foods served by the facility. 

Two assignments with similar objectives and obstacles were the 3-day emergency menu and the 7-day bagged lunch menu. Both required creating diverse menus out of shelf-stable products for easy service. For the emergency menu, we first planned the meals, then found the total servings of food necessary, and lastly found the required quantities of each product to be purchased. Having an emergency plan is necessary to any foodservice facility, as emergencies do happen and preparation is key. The bagged lunch menu included brainstorming different lunches for inmates to take when they leave the facility for work release or court, meaning the products had to be shelf-stable. There were other requirements to be met for each meal. For example, we could not include peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, each meal was to be around 900 calories, and the meal had to be safe without refrigeration for about 4 hours. These assignments emphasized the use of creativity in menu planning as well as the importance of temperature control and shelf-stability in foods. 

Another project we were tasked with was completing the bread order for the entire facility. These orders are received twice weekly, on Monday and Thursday, and cover all of the bread items on the menu. We were provided the necessary menus and worked to figure out exactly how much of each type of bread would be required based on the projected number of servings. We had to ensure the order covered the meals for inmates, officers, and Meals on Wheels. The quantities for the officer’s meals could be tricky because the number of officers eating changed daily. We learned that it was better to slightly over-purchase rather than not have enough to feed everyone.  

Interning at a correctional facility is something neither of us would have expected prior to the internship, but we are thankful that we were given this opportunity. Having a supportive and attentive preceptor helped make this rotation as exciting and unique for us as possible—she provided great information and stories that will stick with us. We will certainly use the knowledge we gained throughout our internship, as well as into our careers. 

Virtual Wake Up Call

By: Kerri Schumacher

“Clank.” “Beep.” “Whoosh.” As I looked over my schedule on Monday, August 31, 2020, these are some of the sounds I expected to hear that first day walking into the Maryland Food Bank. I thought my rotation was going to be full of food cans clanking, trucks backing up into the loading docks, and the whooshing sound of sorting, packing, and distribution machines. Little did I know, the only sounds I would encounter would be the traffic outside my window and my fingers typing on my keyboard. As we continue to get through this pandemic, I have had to be very quick-witted, creative, technologically advanced, and able to adjust to many changes. Cultivating these skills has already helped me get the most out of the physically distant rotations of my dietetic internship.

The Maryland Food Bank is a nonprofit organization providing food to those in need all over the state of Maryland. I worked specifically with the Maryland Food Bank in Baltimore, MD. During my time at this rotation, I gained exposure to the magnitude of the food bank’s outreach. It has completely changed my perspective and I am excited that it continues to grow. Before this rotation, I hadn’t thought about where food banks get the food they distribute, and how their sources impact their services. I learned that who they partner with impacts what food is brought into the food bank. The cycle of production and distribution of food is way beyond my original expectation. 

I also learned about how they categorize and stock the food in the warehouse. They organize through a system called SWAP which stands for Supporting Wellness at Pantries. It separates the food into three categories based on set nutritional criteria. These categories include:

  • Green, for foods you should eat a lot of, 
  • Yellow, for foods you should only have sometimes, and 
  • Red, for foods that you should try to avoid. 

This ranking system has provided nutrition education and convenience to customers who come into the food bank to receive groceries. This struck me as very simple, but these categories make an enormous difference. An activity that I did when I first began was to gather three different household grocery items and figure out what categories they belonged to. I was suddenly in the position of the consumer. I was surprised that my assumptions about the foods I picked were wrong. The nutritional content of food can be deceiving and I was shown how much of a challenge it could be for someone trying to buy healthy food.

However, my main duties of this rotation were focused on nutrition education. The food bank primarily delivered education activities and materials right in their backyard, at the Maryland Food Bank garden. Because of the impacts of COVID-19, in-person activities and learning opportunities for children were no longer an option. My preceptor introduced the idea of creating virtual workshops and online videos for elementary-age kids and parents to access; I knew I was up for the challenge. Throughout the 3-week rotation, my partner, Jennifer, and I created six virtual workshop scripts for the food bank to translate into videos. The six workshops each had a specific theme, forming a bridge between the food bank’s garden and nutrition education. The topics consisted of:

  1. Veggie Superheroes
  2. Fruit and Vegetable Categories
  3. Herbs
  4. My Plate
  5. Liquids/Added Sugars
  6. Vitamins.     

I had so much fun creating these scripts because it was a chance to explore another side of myself… one that was daring and brave. I strived to become relatable to kids, using kid-friendly language while also effectively conveying essential information as a nutrition educator. Although none of this work was created onsite, l believe I received the best beginning to this program that I could have ever asked for. With this being said, I did face challenges and had to critically think through potential problems to complete the final product before the deadline. Honestly, it was rigorous at times, especially when I experienced the true meaning of “writer’s block.” Scriptwriting was completely new to me and I learned so much by working on this project. I appreciate that my preceptor gave me the freedom to be inventive. In closing, I cannot wait to see everything that was once just ideas in my head translated into actual videos that the food bank can use to engage and educate children.

Perhaps the most important thing I learned during this rotation is the importance of keeping an open mind. Initially, I worried that I wouldn’t learn much from a virtual rotation, but that fear was unfounded. The need of the Maryland Food Bank to find ways to connect virtually to its clients provided me the opportunity to work on new and exciting projects. The virtual world does not have to be negative; it seems as if it is going to continue to be our “new normal.” I already realize how wrong I was to have this premade notion fabricated in my mind. I am very enthusiastic to tackle future tasks and projects, whether they be virtual or in person. I’m ready, and I’m set…Let’s go!

The Maryland Food Bank promotes nutrition education resources they utilize in their garden. I compiled these resources for the display.

Caterpillars that can be found all over the garden on the vegetables. I am told they do not bite, but the colors are mesmerizing. We made sure to include a cartoon caterpillar for the Herb Lesson.

 

 

Connecting the Dots: From State to National SNAP-ED

By Hannah Lundeen

SNAP, SNAP-Ed, FNS. What does it all mean? For my first rotation, I was able to spend two weeks at SNAP-Ed (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program- Education) Connection. This USDA-funded program provides resources and support for individual state programs who in turn provide nutritional benefits to low-income Americans. Not all state agencies go by the name SNAP. For example, California goes by CalFresh Healthy Living Program and Oregon goes by Food Hero. The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) is the organization within the USDA that oversees and funds SNAP and SNAP-Ed. The goal of SNAP-Ed is to improve the likelihood that persons eligible for SNAP will make healthy food and lifestyle choices. Within my first rotation, I built upon past experiences, learned how the national SNAP-Ed team supports the state agencies, and explored new interest areas.  

As an undergraduate, I worked on Food Hero’s social marketing platform, performed regular website maintenance, and assisted with in-person education events and data entry. I was able to relay this through a 20 minute presentation on the Food Hero campaign to the SNAP-Ed Connection team. I spoke on how I got involved, website features, resources for educators, social marketing, and success stories. Although it was over Zoom, this experience allowed me to practice my public speaking skills and my ability to summarize information in a succinct manner. 

The SNAP-Ed Connection website showcases success stories specific to each state. Implementing agencies can submit success stories in order to be featured nationally. My partner and I were asked to reach out to our home state and offer the opportunity to write a success story. Since I already had an understanding of the Food Hero campaign, I took the initiative and wrote the success story myself. I wrote about Food Hero’s Spring Break Bingo project, an initiative aimed at increasing health-promoting behaviors for children outside of school. In 2019, bingo cards with healthy activity ideas were sent home before spring break in 56 Oregon schools (Food Hero, 2019). Results showed that the bingo cards did help to increase healthy behaviors. For example, 1384 students ate breakfast, 1316 students had dinner with their family, and 1143 students chose a fruit or vegetable for a snack (Food Hero, 2019). Additionally, to show how Food Hero works to meet the needs of its target audiences, I explained how they reached families during the COVID-19 pandemic through an online Bingo at Home page. Find the published story here

Furthermore, SNAP-Ed Connection website houses excellent resources that state programs can use, such as the SNAP-Ed library. States can submit electronic materials that they deem helpful. These materials are reviewed by SNAP-Ed Connection faculty and then added to the library. States use the library to research what has been done in the past in other regions as they create and implement new programs.  One of the final projects I worked on was reviewing and providing feedback on the SNAP-Ed library submission form in order to make it more user-friendly. 

An area that I was excited to gain new experience in was food photography. When my preceptor asked if I would be interested in taking photos of recipes for the SNAP-Ed connection website, I eagerly agreed. The morning of the photoshoot, my partner and I set about to collect the ingredients for five recipes. Once we got home, we were enthusiastically sharing ideas on how to best take the photographs. As the afternoon went on and we made our way through the recipes, our sense of appreciation for food photographers grew – it is not as easy as it looks. We considered many technical details in order to get the best possible shot. Some of the insights gleaned from this experience included learning how to utilize lighting, props, and camera angles to make the food look as aesthetically pleasing as possible. For example, we learned how important the backdrop is by testing out different areas around the house. We took photos in different rooms as well as outside, trying out a variety of backdrops. We found that areas near windows or outside yield the best results. We also practiced editing photos in Adobe Lightroom, which allows users to adjust factors such as exposure, contrast, and shadows, resulting in better lighting. Below is a photo of the SNAP Salsa Pinto Beans recipe that is now up on the USDA MyPlate Kitchen website. 

As I wrapped up my time at SNAP-Ed Connection, I thought that since each state-run SNAP organization functions semi-independently, it’s great to have an organization such as SNAP-Ed Connection to both support the state organizations and highlight how the programs make a difference across the country. Through utilizing past experience as well as being open to new opportunities, I made the most out of my first internship rotation. 

Sources:

(2019). Statewide Impact 2019 Spring Break BINGO Report. Food Hero. https://www.foodhero.org/sites/default/files/health-tools/2019_spring_break_bingo_statewide_final.pdf

What a Way to Start

By Myranda Vig

The day I had been dreaming about and working towards for years was finally here. Imaging what the first day of my dietetic internship would be like, I pictured myself experiencing pure enthusiasm and joy. Instead, I was flooded with nerves and questioning everything. I left my house extra early to ensure I would arrive ahead of schedule. As I pulled in, I saw the Food and Friends sign. “This is it,” I told myself, “no going back now.” Fortunately, my first rotation gave me a great start to the internship. At Food and Friends, I spent four weeks shadowing four dietitians and working in the kitchen and expo/grocery area. Entering the building I was greeted with smiles and kindness. During the first week, I learned more about Food and Friends and what they offer to the community. Food and Friends is a non-profit community resource working to provide nourishment for individuals with HIV/AIDS, cancer, and other serious illnesses through nutrition counseling, home-delivered meals, and groceries to go.

Shadowing the dietitians the first week I saw so much passion and excitement among the staff. The dietitians are assigned different clients and they speak to them every one to six months, depending on their health status and needs. Each dietitian focuses on appetite, gastrointestinal tract, and weight loss to ensure all the clients’ quality of life is being improved. Each dietitian has a different area of interest, however, so they all counsel each client with a different approach. One of the dietitians is very passionate about the quality of sleep on one’s health. She makes it a priority to ask the clients how their sleep schedule is. Another dietitian is focused on brain health and omega fatty acids. When she speaks to clients who may be feeling depressed, she brings up the benefits of omegas.

I listened in on many of the counseling sessions between the dietitians and their clients. This has helped to deepen my understanding of several serious illnesses and their symptoms. Additionally, I learned to ask clients about any side effects to medications they are on to ensure I appropriately offer them guidance. I leave each day feeling very inspired and excited about the new information I’m learning. I have learned so much about HIV/AIDS during this rotation.

When I wasn’t with one of the dietitians, I was designing educational resources or working upstairs in the kitchen/expo area. In my independent work time, I designed three infographics regarding low sodium seasoning tips, choosing whole grains and high fiber fruits/vegetables, and the benefits of small frequent meals for lung and heart disease. I wrote a blog post style resource for these topics as well. I enjoyed designing these educational resources for the clients to refer to and to offer them some tips and guidance.

Let me tell you, I was not expecting how quickly I would be working to prepare hundreds of fruit cocktails, produce bags, and fruit for the grocery deliveries. I had so much fun working with the volunteers to ensure we got all the work done efficiently. Food and Friends offer many different types of meals and groceries for their clients, such as heart-healthy, diabetic, renal, gastrointestinal friendly, vegetarian, no fish, no dairy, and pureed diets. This is to meet the nutritional needs of all the clients. I also did a kitchen inspection with one of the dietitians to check that everything was properly working and all sanitation procedures were being met in the facility and among staff.

Overall, I’m enjoying my time at Food and Friends. I have one more week till my next rotation, and I’m so excited about all I have left to learn at my time here. This was a great first rotation site that offered exposure to community nutrition and foodservice. The nerves I felt on my first day quickly dissipated with the welcoming staff at Food and Friends. Any future interns that have a chance to come here should be very excited.