Promoting Health and Wellness in The Foundling’s Developmental Disabilities Division

Written by Carlye Husserl (pictured above, center), Director of Food and Nutrition Services at the New York Foundling


The New York Foundling’s Developmental Disabilities Division provides Individualized Residential Alternatives and Individual Supports and Services to over 260 individuals with developmental disabilities in New York City and surrounding counties. Our homes provide a supportive environment to our individuals giving them the tools and resources they need to become integrated members of their communities. Part of the services that individuals receive in the residences is the oversight and support from our nutritionists.


When I joined The Foundling’s Developmental Disabilities Division three years ago, I was surprised to see such a high prevalence of obesity, diabetes and heart disease among the individuals in our care. Something had to be done.


Three years later, the individuals in our residences have lost a combined total of 1,289 pounds! That’s more weight than a lion, tiger and bear (oh my…!) combined.


How did we lose 1,289 pounds?


In September of 2013 I walked into our residences and saw an opportunity to improve the food we were providing to the individuals in our care. Some of the challenges our individuals were facing included a lack of healthy food choices; difficulty chewing/swallowing and tasting foods; medications that were contributing to their weight gain; and physical limitations making it difficult to exercise and move around. These symptoms can make weight loss even more difficult to achieve than it already is.


After speaking with individuals in our care, reviewing their medical history, and partnering with the staff, I developed a new menu which included healthier items. I also revamped what was stocked in our kitchens and educated staff and some of our residents on ways to make smarter decisions related to food. As new staff join the Developmental Disabilities Division, I training them about menu planning, cooking and providing healthy food options.


So what’s our secret? It’s simple…


  • Replace unhealthy high fat/high sugar snack choices with low fat dairy, fruits and vegetables. If medications put someone at a disadvantage for excess hunger, ‘junk food’ should be replaced with real foods to encourage satiety. For example, replace grabbing a bag of chips from the corner store (500-1,000 calories) and instead, enjoy a small frozen yogurt with some cereal and berries (300 calories).
  • Replace juice and other sugary beverages with water, unsweetened beverages and diet beverages.
  • Make “swaps” for better food choices. For example, one of our individuals loved Jamba Juice and his smoothies ranged from 800-1,000 calories! Instead, we replaced it with a healthy 250 calorie smoothie that he can make from home and doesn’t contain added sugars and powdered proteins and instead, REAL food! Teaching independence and control will lead to empowerment and reduce caloric intake.
  • Reducing downtime! Instead of coming home and sitting in front of the TV or waiting for their next meal, staff and the men and women in our residences are encouraged to go for walks. Some of our more independent individuals have joined local gyms and fitness centers.


We take pride in our individual’s success.


Nancy R., a woman who lives in the Bronx, lost 30 pounds this year! Nancy decided she would eat large salads every night for dinner and not snack on unnecessary foods. She reports having more energy and is very proud of her success!


Carlye Husserl is the Director of Food and Nutrition Services at the New York Foundling. She is also a Registered Dietitian. Carlye has worked at The Foundling for the past 4 years and enjoys seeing the changes in the people she cares for day after day, year after year. For some healthy recipes and tips you can view her website www.sweetnutritionnyc.com.


*Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The New York Foundling, its funders, regulators, donors and/or employees.

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