Nutrition has always been central to the Vital Bridges program, and registered dietitians are at the heart of our food and nutrition programming. Vital Bridges counts on their expertise to help participants choose nutritious diets, form positive habits and strengthen their bodies to improve their health. Dietitians have made an incredible impact on our participants, and now they’re expanding their services beyond the Vital Bridges walls.
In addition to maintaining services at Vital Bridges program sites, the dietitians now serve participants in the HHO medical clinics, Erie Family Health Centers, Access Community Health Network, and Heartland Housing facilities. The dietitians have also started using telenutrition, a video conferencing service, to interact with participants face-to-face even when a dietitian is not on-site. These adjustments allow vulnerable individuals such as the chronically ill, people experiencing homelessness, refugees and those living with HIV and AIDS all over Chicago to benefit from HHO dietitian expertise.
HHO dietitians start every new participant encounter with a comprehensive nutritional assessment. In this part of the assessment, dietitians usually discover chronic ailments such as diabetes, heart disease, and weight-related issues that require treatment. The dietitians find that almost all screened participants lack access to quality, nutritious and affordable food. Knowing the challenges and limitations facing each participant gives the team a starting point on forming a nutrition action plan.
The action plan is a collaborative process between the dietitian and the participant. They create goals and a plan to measure progress toward them. Nutritional goals and plans vary depending on the participant. A refugee participant may need to focus on navigating American food options to find healthy and culturally-appropriate choices. Diabetic participants may be given cooking goals and referred to the Diabetes Support Group at an HHO clinic. At Harvest Commons, the new Heartland Housing residence, the on-site gardens and green living workshops can be incorporated into a participating resident’s nutrition plan.
Recently, at a Vital Bridges grocery center, an HHO dietitian met with someone who lost his job. He struggled with substance use in the past, using it as a coping mechanism. Recognizing that this situation could spark a relapse, the dietitian worked with the participant to create a list of healthy, preventive measures. To keep his energy up when he didn’t feel like eating, she recommended a list of small, nutrient-dense snacks to sustain him, and she also encouraged him to follow up with his mental health provider. She referred him to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) to supplement the food he received at Vital Bridges until he could find another job. He was very grateful, and the team looks forward to checking in on his progress.
Good health starts with good food, but sustained health requires healthy habits. Whether they are screening new participants, leading support groups, or demonstrating nutritious recipes, HHO dietitians always focus on making healthy habits seamless, accessible, and attainable for everyone they encounter. Because of their dedication and hard work, HHO truly celebrates National Nutrition Month.