Once a week, registered dietitian Marlei Simon wheels a cart into the waiting room of the Carlos and Marguerite Mason Solid Organ Transplant Center and teaches a cooking lesson.
Her students are patients who are waiting to be seen for a variety of reasons. Some are pre-transplant and already attending nutrition classes. Others are post-transplant and are learning how to care for their new kidneys. Still others are on dialysis. Each has special dietary needs, but all have one thing in common – they need the nutrients supplied by a diet of fresh foods.
“A lot of us don’t cook anymore,” Simon said. “We rely a lot on prepared foods, either from the supermarket or fast food, and obviously restaurants, and we don’t know how to use fresh ingredients to make a healthy meal. So that’s kind of the purpose of this.”
Recently, Simon received a $3,000 grant from the Walmart Community Foundation to teach patients how to create meals using fresh ingredients. She’s purchased banners to place around the center, food models, and ingredients to make healthy, cold dishes. Recent recipes included granola bars and salad with homemade dressing.
As a student, Simon learned to lead demonstrations before an audience. She applied those skills to a WIC clinic she worked at after graduation. During times when the waiting room became crowded, she set up impromptu education classes to not only entertain, but also provide useful information while clients waited. It gave her the opportunity to introduce foods they may not have tried otherwise by providing samples of less common fruits and vegetables.
When Simon noticed the waiting room become crowded at the transplant clinic, she decided to bring the concept to Augusta University and use the opportunity to demonstrate foods that are good for transplant and dialysis patients. Her discussions center around proper serving sizes, what nutrients like fiber and protein do for the body, and healthy versus unhealthy fat and what they do.
Reception has been great, Simon said. Many of the patients are engaged in the classes and ask a lot of questions. They enjoy sampling the foods she prepares.
One day, Simon would like to have a bigger cart outfitted with equipment that will allow her to do real cooking demonstration with hot foods. For now, she focuses on food safety and cold meals.
“I have to teach people how to use fresh food so that they can take care of their bodies, because if they can take care of their bodies and manage their blood pressure, manage their diabetes and whatnot really well, and manage their weight, too, then they can keep their transplant for longer. And that’s kind of the goal of transplant in general, is to keep them off of the dialysis and healthy for as long as possible,” she said.