VA Dietitian Appeals to Employees’ Stomachs to Improve Their Health Status

By Steve Lewis

MILWAUKEE — Kayleen M. Wichlinski, RD, CD, is trying to improve the health of the hearts and minds of VA employees — through their stomachs.

“I knew that going into the military was not for me, but I also knew that if I could serve my country my way, I would do it,” says Wichlinski, training dietitian at the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center in Milwaukee. “This is my way of giving back.”

Wichlinski also has taken a distinctively 21st century approach to her job. Not only does she “piggyback” on new dietary-health initiatives, but she blogs about them also.

Kayleen M. Wichlinski, RD, CD, works with kitchen staff at the Clement J. Zablocki VA
Medical Center in Milwaukee.

Recently, Wichlinski says, the medical center took the opportunity to participate in a national initiative in March to reinforce their nutrition messages. When the 2012 theme “Shape Up Your Plate” was announced by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the team decided to work related events into their own programming.

“It was the theme for our 2012 National Nutrition Month fair,” she explains. “We had a team of nutritionists set the goal of having everyone see what a healthy plate looks like.” The “healthy plate,” she explains, is half veggies, one-quarter protein and one-quarter starches. One of the interns created little pages for the veterans to view, like “Choose my pizza,” which was loaded with veggies. “If there’s a casserole, you do the same thing; you mix together all the components, but in a healthy balance,” Wichlinski explains. “You take a dish you’ve always made, but you make it a little healthier.”

She also had an exercise for the employees called “Rate my Plate,” a nutrition quiz about the ideal amounts of key food groups that should be consumed. Once the results are tallied, Wichlinksi says, she’ll have a better idea about specific issues to address in the future.

Because she promoted the initiatives on VA’s Vantage Point blog, Milwaukee’s efforts got national notice, and she was able to share ideas with other VA healthcare systems.

On the blog, Wichlinksi describes in detail how nutritional professionals held a lunch-and-learn for VA employees and veterans, providing food samples. The nutrition staff then was recognized on Registered Dietitian/Dietetic Technician Day, using their celebratory lunch to promote healthy eating with a meal of tilapia tacos with cabbage slaw and fresh lime juice, fresh quinoa salad and chocolate oat squares for dessert.

For the “grand slam” event, Wichlinksi wrote, dietitians and dietetic technicians held the facility’s 2nd Annual Nutrition Fair, focusing on the “Shape Up Your Plate” theme. Employees, Veterans and families learned to use the “plate method” to create “My Healthy Breakfast,” “My Healthy Lunch” and “My Healthy Dinner” options. The event included a health food demonstration — pasta accompanied with stir-fried vegetables, lean turkey breast and a low-fat Alfredo sauce — food samples, and talks by medical and nutritional experts. It was even captured on video at “Milwaukee VA Today.”

To finish off the month, the nutrition group asked Veterans Canteen Service to provide three healthy entree menu items available for purchase. They responded with turkey tacos with fresh cilantro, tomato and avocado, black bean turkey burritos and chicken stir-fry.

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