Posted by Sara Freedman

Eating healthy is not always inherently fun or easy. But, with some simple guidelines, a little competition, and the promise of spending time with friends, it can be! Last week, Nora Saul, CHAI Services nutritionist, organized a salad competition and dinner for the CHAI residents at our Waltham office. The challenge? Make a salad that meets certain nutritional guidelines, while also being creative and delicious.

Seven residences rose to the challenge, using a wide variety of ingredients, including edamame, grapes, and quinoa. Residents described their salad and ingredients to the group before a group of staff volunteers dug in and tried them all. Each salad received a score based on appearance, taste, and texture. The competition was tight, with the top three salads being within four points of each other. The ultimate winner was the salad made by a Melton Road resident. All of the residents got to try one another's salads, enjoy dinner together, and play a few rounds of "nutrition bingo."

Earlier on at JF&CS, I worked in the residential programs. Between juggling a variety of different responsibilities, taking into account different residents' food restrictions and preferences, and having a limited food budget, making healthy, appealing meals for dinner was one of the biggest challenges for staff. Easy access to unhealthy snack foods poses a tough challenge for our residents. Thanks to the added sugar, fats, and salt in these foods, we all find it difficult to know when we've had enough, which can lead to overeating. Adults with developmental or intellectual disabilities can be even more susceptible to the appeal of these unhealthy foods, and less motivated to refrain from consuming large quantities1.

As a volunteer judge at the salad competition, I was able to see the impact that having a nutritionist on staff has had firsthand. Having a nutritionist on the CHAI Services team is made possible by the generous philanthropic support from Sunitha and Das. The residents were excited to show off their creations and talk about why certain ingredients were healthy. So, although a bowl of ice cream is delicious and will always be tempting, spending the night with our residents enjoying salads and talking about healthy food choices was even more so.

1Palay, Laura. Stacked: The Odds Against People with Developmental Disabilities Making Healthy Food Choices. The Center for Systems Change, 2013.