March 13, 2024

Highlighting the Registered Dietitian-Nutritionists of MANNA

This National Nutrition Month ® and RDN Day (today, March 13th!), we celebrate the efforts of MANNA’s dietitians and seek to serve as an example of putting nutrition expertise into practice. National Nutrition Month® at MANNA is presented by PA Health & Wellness.

What comes to mind when you hear the word “dietitian?” Perhaps you think of a particular food, or maybe of someone in a lab coat offering advice on eating differently. Registered dietitian-nutritionists (RDNs) are credentialed experts in nutrition who serve as primary resources for information on how food relates to health. RDNs help people learn how to best meet their nutrition needs and manage their health conditions with the food they consume.

An RDN’s expertise allows them to serve in a variety of niche roles that impact public health. There are various facets of the Nutrition and Dietetics field that contribute to getting food to household dining tables and accurate nutrition information to individual consumers. With a wide scope of practice that promotes the health of individuals and communities, the RDN utilizes evidence-based strategies throughout their work in food service, menu planning, nutrition research, and nutrition education.

At MANNA, dietitians play a number of roles to carry out our mission to provide medically tailored meals and nutrition education to improve the health of those with serious illnesses. We’ll break down those roles below.

Medically Tailored Meal Menus

Providing medically tailored meals (MTMs) to our clients first involves creating a full 21 meal/week menu in which the collective meals and snacks meet the medical nutrition needs of a specific client population. To be properly tailored, all meals must adhere to established nutrition guidelines set forth for specific health conditions. The nutritional needs for different health conditions vary, and MANNA serves clients with varying health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, HIV/AIDS and kidney disease, to name a few. Many of MANNA’s clients also live with multiple health conditions. RDNs must provide complete and accurate variations of the weekly menu to ensure nutritional requirements are met for each medical circumstance.

MANNA’s Nutrition and Client Services department includes five full-time dietitians, headed by Emily Sadowy, RDN LDN, and directed by Tonya Cooper, RDN LDN. As you might imagine, developing medically tailored menus as described is a big job. But that’s not the only role of our RDNs, as they also regularly interact with clients to ensure meals are well received. It takes a great deal of time and coordination to assess the nutritional needs of a diverse population. It takes an even greater amount of coordination to balance these needs on a menu that is both enjoyed by clients and feasible to produce and distribute on a weekly basis.

“As manager of the department, it is my goal to always keep in mind the needs of our clients while working with my colleagues to consistently improve our programs. With that, it is important to acknowledge the role that dietitians and intake specialists play each day,” said Emily Sadowy, RDN, LDN. “It is important to listen and support them. Outside of Nutrition and Client Services, I am grateful for the opportunity to work on projects with team members across all departments to foster consistent communication and collaboration.”

Nutrition Education

Providing medically tailored meals to those who need them is an even more effective intervention when it is paired with nutrition education. Nutrition education at MANNA may come in various forms, such as informative handout materials, specific nutrition content created for social media, Get Fresh cooking classes, and one-on-one nutrition counseling sessions for individuals seeking personalized care. By creating access to a wealth of nutrition information in varied forms, dietitians are in a position to help dispel food-related myths from less credible sources and to encourage healthful meal choices.

As part of the MANNA RDN team, Mallory Drake, MPH, RDN, LDN, CHES; Rachel Vannauker, MS, RDN, LDN; and Brianna Wilson, MPH, RDN, LDN, collaborate to create appropriate nutrition-related messaging, and each provide one-on-one counseling to clients. Just as meals from MANNA are tailored to specific dietary needs, nutrition-related guidance is highly individualized — challenging the dietitians to synthesize science-heavy information into relatable tidbits, while also uncovering small goals clients deem achievable from session to session. Results from MANNA’s 2023 Client Exit Survey revealed that, of clients who received nutrition counseling during their time receiving MANNA meal deliveries, 93% rated their sessions as good or excellent. (For more on why one may wish to pursue nutrition counseling, please see also:


Improving Health

MANNA’s program is constantly evolving and growing. We are working to reach more clients, cover additional health conditions, and build deeper relationships with partners throughout the Greater Philadelphia area.

The MANNA Institute, MANNA’s research and evaluation arm directed by Dr. Jule Anne Henstenburg, PhD, MS, RDN, LDN, FAND, conducts critical nutrition research and evaluation projects. Improving the health of people with serious illness would be difficult to measure if not for rigorous collection and analysis of data on the impact of MANNA’s medically tailored meals and nutrition education programs. Extensive nutrition research continues to be necessary to measure the impact of MTMs, particularly as food as medicine programs gain traction legislatively. Dr. Henstenburg’s years of experience working in academia and research, as well as her time as a pediatric dietitian, give her unique expertise to lead the MANNA Institute’s groundbreaking work in the Food is Medicine field.

Becca Boova-Turner, MS, RD, LDN, is MANNA’s Healthcare Partnerships Manager. In her work, she helps build bridges between MANNA and insurance plans and providers. Establishing strong relationships with fellow healthcare professionals is critical in furthering MANNA’s reach. Becca champions the difficult discussions surrounding food access and improving malnutrition status within MANNA’s service population, making the needs of the clients known to those who provide coverage under insurance plans. Fostering these connections helps to secure MANNA services for more clients who would benefit from them and is critical in advancing MANNA’s mission.

Running MANNA operationally is a calculated effort with many moving parts. And who better to lead a nutrition-focused organization than dietitians with a demonstrated grasp on the ever-changing needs of a rapidly growing client population? Under the leadership of CEO Sue Daugherty, RDN, LDN, and COO Nicole Laverty, RDN, LDN, MANNA is supported by dietetic trained professionals who advocate for not only MANNA and its clients, but a profession often overlooked among necessary healthcare services.

RD Becca summarizes, “I love being a dietitian at MANNA, because I know that I’m a part of an organization that truly values the diverse roles dietitians can hold.  We have representation from our profession in many ‘non-traditional’ roles, such as CEO, COO, Director of the MANNA Institute, and Healthcare Partnerships Manager, in addition to our dietitians dedicated to nutrition counseling.  MANNA also helps further our profession by standing firm on the critical role of RDNs in menu development for MTMs and by including nutrition counseling as part of the MTM program.”

Happy Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Day to all RDNS carrying out this critical work every day to improve the health of our communities!

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