Intern Reflection: Beyond the Box

Receiving a closed box full of food can be both an exciting and nerve-wracking experience for participants. Exciting because it feels like you’re receiving a present—knowing there are some quality products inside. And nerve-wracking if there are dietary restrictions and strong personal preferences you live by. What items go in a box matters and impacts how participants can get the most out of the food provided. That’s where Jenna, a registered dietitian and Manna’s program director, along with dietetic interns play a key role in preparing boxes.

Introducing special closed boxes!

I learned how a Manna participant will receive a box full of core food groups like, fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy (shelf stable), and some treats. From time to time, there are participants who communicate having special dietary needs. It takes knowing your way around the warehouse, some nutrition knowledge, and a lot of attention to detail to meet the needs for the special boxes and ensure anyone and everyone is receiving a box of nourishing items.

What I did

Before participants pick up their boxes, Manna’s Participant Services staff notifies Jenna regarding who needs a special closed box and specific dietary restrictions and preferences. After some brief instructions, Jenna sent Jackie (another dietary intern) and me into the warehouse to piece together multiple “D boxes” (diabetic) with a vegan preference. Once we select our box, secure the bottom, and properly label the top and sides, we’re ready to go. Jackie and I followed Jenna’s box packing guidelines and walked around the warehouse finding appropriate items. We review each item’s label and ingredients in order to ensure it is appropriate.

Isabelle (left) and Jackie, UMD Dietetic Interns

What I learned

Attention to detail is everything! When packing these special boxes, there are dietary restrictions and preferences to think about, plus being mindful of taste, textures, and acceptability. Through this task, I learned that practice makes perfect. When packing for the first time, I rushed through the task without slowing down and thinking about those mindful questions: will this item taste good with another item in here? Was I thorough in checking the ingredients? Is this particular item too complicated to use? I made mistakes and missed items. But I’m thankful to Jenna taking the time to check my work and teach me what I was doing well and what I was missing. By the third time packing boxes, I had a better handle of mindfulness and was able to pack a successful box with minimal supervision.  Practice makes perfect and mindfulness is one of those skills that requires us to think outside the box.