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Nutrition Month at Shriners Philly celebrates the contribution of our dietitian

Going above and beyond for the needs of our patients is all in a day's work for our clinical dietitian

Nutrition Month at Shriners Philly celebrates the contribution of our dietitian

March is National Nutrition Month. Created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the month-long campaign focuses on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits.

At Shriners Hospitals for Children — Philadelphia, our clinical dietitian Michael Szymendera focuses on providing our patients with healthy options while making them as comfortable in a hospital setting as possible.

“Nutrition is a really big umbrella and a lot of things can fall under that umbrella,” said Szymendera. “The average person might consider nutrition to be eating more carbs when they know they’re going to be exercising. But nutrition to our patients can mean something very different.”

Whether a patient has specific dietary requirements or cultural preferences, Szymendera and the kitchen staff work hard to meet every patient’s needs.

“Before surgery, kids are eating chicken fingers and fries, but after surgery, their needs change. But it’s hard to tell a kid they need to swap fries for fish or vegetables,” said Szymendera. “That’s where my milkshakes come in. I can work in protein and they don’t even know it.”

This is why patients know Szymendera as “Milkshake Mike.”

The hospital’s daily menu consists largely of American cuisine options and that does not always interest our international patients. When Szymendera looks at the patient census, he takes into account where patients are coming from and then works with kitchen staff to collaborate on menu options.

“Nutrition can also mean different things to different cultures,” said Szymendera. “If we have a patient visiting from the Mediterranean, I’ll look up some recipes of Mediterranean food and then I’ll work with our kitchen staff to see if anyone is willing to get creative or make something new.”

Our dietary team also works closely with nursing staff, as well as our child life and recreational therapy departments to know what a patient’s needs may be. Szymendera frequently makes trips to convenience and grocery stores to pick up items a patient may ask for specifically.

“Sometimes a patient will have some dietary guidelines due to their condition, so a patient’s mom might say ‘oh, he’d really love some hot cocoa, but it would have to be sugar free,’ so I’ll run to the store and get some sugar free cocoa,” said Szymendera.

The Philadelphia Shriners Hospital practices family-centered care that embraces the whole family. From social services and support groups to patient care education, we strive to include an entire family in the care we provide. While choosing food to eat off a menu would not seem like it would factor into a patient’s care, staff at the Philadelphia Shriners Hospital know better.

“It can really decrease stress on the patient and family’s end when a patient gets to eat what they want,” said Szymendera. “And if I’m able to make that happen, that’s why I’m here. It’s doesn’t always happen, but we really try hard to make it happen for everyone.”

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