Stuffed vegetable models, Legos, and Pictionary are all tools of the trade for Tricia Helwig, RD, CD, one of the 16 dietitians at Rogers. Tricia works with children and teens who are in residential treatment to help them develop a healthy relationship with food.
She is passionate about helping kids and is constantly coming up with new and fun ways to talk about food and make it a part of a healthy lifestyle. Often, she will start slowly, just getting to know each child and learning more about them. Then she will find out about the child’s views and preferences when it comes to food choices and meal times.
At the Child and Adolescent Centers, Tricia works extensively with kids who have a variety of mental health disorders. “The work I do isn’t just with children affected by eating disorders,” Tricia said. “ADHD, OCD and depression all have unique challenges for the child’s nutritional needs and outlook.” As a member of the treatment team, Tricia works to help each child find a workable meal plan that is suited just for them.
In any given day, Tricia may work with children or teens that are afraid of certain foods, because they fear choking or contamination or find their appetite waning. She introduces them to a variety of foods through games and educational activities. She even offers cooking classes for teens. “If there are kids who need to develop self-confidence or decision-making skills, we’ll put them in charge of the menu,” she said.
During these activities, Tricia is able to help kids understand that they’re not the only ones to feel the way they do. She will work with other members of the treatment team to reincorporate additional foods into the child’s diet. “The treatment here corrects the cognitive distortions they might have about any given food or situation,” she said. Tricia loves the challenge of making connections kids can understand through the many ideas and tools she provides. “I like to see them making healthy and appropriate choices for themselves,” she said.
Tricia understands how difficult it is for a child with social anxiety to be able to participate in a shared meal. “I’ll try to eat with them occasionally so they know I’m someone who is there to support them.” During meal times Tricia is also able to identify where children and teens are making progress and where they may need extra support.
She also works with family members if they looking for a better understanding of the approaches that work best with their child. “Sometimes it’s just knowing that it’s o.k. to allow kids to have treats, but also knowing when and how to say ‘no’ if their child is having trouble with impulsivity,” Tricia said. “They know their family best. We want them to be able to work together to find the best solution for their meal times. And kids can be really insightful. Sometimes they just need to be heard.”
Tricia enjoys her work with kids because she is able to see them learn while they are in treatment, and can see an incredible difference in the child from when they were first admitted to the day they go home. “I think about the successes I’ve seen,” said Tricia. “That is an incredible motivator for coming into work every day to help these kids through their challenges.”