Disclosure: I am a St. Jude Blogger. I recently visited the hospital at no cost in order to facilitate this post
and share about my experiences. All opinions are my own. Thank you for reading!
A few weeks ago, I had the amazing opportunity to get an inside look at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. I say the word amazing, and that just doesn't feel like enough. It can't contain all the feelings and impressions I had when I walked on the St. Jude campus and saw the children and their families, and the doctors and researchers. It's just too much for any one word, but amazing is all I have right now. I'm going to be talking a lot about St. Jude over the next several months, because I have so many things to share about them. I couldn't possibly condense them all into one post.
As part of our blogger tour, one of the very first things we got to do was meet with Executive Chef Miles McMath. Chef McMath is an award winning chef and he's so passionate about the health of the children at St. Jude that I was completely moved. He told us all about his philosophy - it was basic and made perfect sense. Eat real, good food. Know what you're eating. Makes sense right?
He then went on to tell us about the St. Jude Garden. After working in healthcare for many years, I can honestly say I've never heard of any hospital having their own garden. Again, once Chef Miles started explaining the garden it made perfect sense. The patients at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital often don’t have much of an appetite while undergoing treatment , yet they need important nutrients to help their bodies heal. In order to get them the healthiest, freshest food possible, Chef Miles created an on-campus garden to provide a continuous supply of fresh vegetables year round.
The organic garden is composed of 59 raised gardening beds, a greenhouse, and hoop houses. There are several volunteers, many of whom are hospital employees, that give their time by planting, mulching, weeding, watering, and harvesting crops seven days a week. The garden helps ensure that the meals being served in Kay Kafé (the cafeteria at St. Jude, named Kay Kafé by Sterling Jewelers, who donated $16 million for its renovation), are farm fresh. Since the food from the garden has to travel less than 100 yards from the ground to the kitchen, the nutritional value is preserved for the patients, families, faculty, and staff who eat there. Not only does having the on-campus garden provide super fresh organic food, packed with vitamins and minerals, it provides a great cost savings for the hospital, which runs on donations from families just like yours and mine.
Chef McMath and Karen Smith, a Registered Dietician and the Nutrition Project Coordinator at St. Jude, went on explain how tricky it can be to ensure that the children at St. Jude are well nourished. An unfortunate side effect of chemotherapy is that it affects the way food smells and tastes. The chemo also affects body composition and patients experience muscle mass changes. It's imperative to improve their nutritional status at the time of diagnosis and to keep them eating so that they can heal; that's why they do everything in their power to meet the needs of these children. Whether it's making their grandmother's recipe for mac and cheese, or having a "make your own pizza" party in the Kay Kafé kitchen, the staff members at St. Jude are wonderfully accommodating and patient.
Since chemo can wreak havoc on the appetite and taste buds, Karen and her colleague Kristy Gibbons began to brainstorm how to entice their justifiably picky eaters to eat. Not only that, how could they get the most nutritionally dense foods into them? Three years ago they came up with idea for the perfect treat - small in portion, fun in shape and color, tart in taste, and packed with nutritional value. Their first prototype was a gummy worm, but over time and with the help of Hope Luka (a student employee), they created Sour Gems. These tart treats come in all sorts of fun shapes, are made to order (since they have a short shelf life), and are delivered to the patient's bedside in less than an hour!
Sour Gems are packed with calories, protein and fat, and a serving of only 5 or 6 pieces can provide 250+ calories! That's equivalent to one can of commercially made liquid supplements. The Sour Gems are going over so well with the patients at St. Jude, they're even working on getting the recipe patented so that they can bring it to the masses and help people outside of St. Jude too.
After I listened to how important the nutritional quality of food is to these children, I started thinking about the foods that I'm feeding my own son. Thankfully, he is healthy and thriving, but admittedly he eats a lot of "junk". He's a picky eater, has a lot of issues with consistency, and has never been willing to east fresh fruits or vegetables. He does love purees though, so I am able to give him several servings or fruits and vegetables in pouches throughout the day, but I really want to do better for him. Everyday I'm working on it little by little. Trying new, nutritionally valuable foods. He doesn't always eat them, but it's a work in progress. This is just one small way that the visit to St. Jude has changed me. There are so many others, and I will be getting to those soon.
Want to learn more about St. Jude and how you can help?
Please visit the St. Jude website to learn more about this wonderful organization, how no child ever has to pay for any of the care they received there, and how you can help. You can also connect with them on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter and Instagram.