I’m excited to start off the week by sharing some great news- I am starting a new job today!
Starting today, I am officially a government employee working on local programs that offer nutritious meals to older adults in DC. The two programs, providing congregate meals and home-delivered meals, help to reduce food insecurity and hunger among older adults. I am so excited about this position because as much as I love educating people about healthy eating (clearly, since I started this blog to do so!), I have always been very passionate about fighting food insecurity (i.e. not knowing where your next meal will come from). I remember learning about the staggering levels of food insecurity both nationally and overseas and thinking, “I want to be a part of the fight against hunger.” Now is my chance
As I embark on this new adventure, I want to share with you some of the interesting things I learned from my last position. As you may know, I worked as the corporate dietitian for a food service company, analyzing recipes and delivering nutrition education to guests and customers. I loved that I was able to combine my two passions for healthy cooking and nutrition. But I also learned a lot that I didn’t learn in a classroom during school. So here are a few of my biggest takeaways:
Most people are not interested in healthy eating.
Sad fact, but true. As I am often surrounded by friends and family who are interested in healthful eating, I forget that not everyone is! Our company served thousands of people each day, with even larger building populations. I offered free nutrition classes, free cooking demonstrations (see the pic above), free samples, free recipes, and free advice but at the end of the day, I hardly spoke to the majority of our customers. I often joked with my fellow dietitians at work about how many people would walk past us while we sampled a delicious kale salad or fresh quinoa dish, and say “no thanks, that looks healthy.” In seriousness. I used to be shell-shocked when someone would say that, until I realized that was more the norm.
All the comments just showed me that dietitians need to change the perception of “healthy food.” There is still a stigma attached to “healthy” and “dietitian,” which translates these words into “tasteless” and “food police.” We need to convince people that “healthy” should mean “fresh and flavorful.” Dietitians should be thought of as recipe innovators or allies in changing the way you eat. After my most recent job, I think the best way to do this is not to show people how to make their favorite foods healthier, but rather demonstrate ways to prepare healthy and fresh foods so less healthier foods are no longer the go-to option. I no longer believe in telling someone “macaroni and cheese tastes just the same when it is made with low-fat cheese and skim milk instead of cream!” Cause guess what, it is not going be as creamy or taste as good, and this only hurts our case that healthy food can be delicious. Instead, dietitians should introduce new, nutritious, yet flavorful side dish alternatives, rather than trying to replace unhealthy dishes. Our biggest hurdle is trying to convince people that healthy food also is enjoyable; once we do that, the rest will be so much easier.
There is a lot of confusion about healthy eating.
We have all seen the headlines stating “you can lease 10 pounds a week on this diet!” or “this food is making you fat!” The media loves to publicize the results of a single study that “prove” that one diet is better than the rest. There are also hundreds of personal stories of how a certain diet changed one individual’s life. All this “clutter” just makes it so much harder for people to know what they should eat. I had lots of people tell me during outreach events at work “I gave up all carbs” or “I only eat the meals written out in the diet by this one author.” But why?? Cause a book said to? Or a newspaper article? Or your a celebrity? As dietitians, we need to make sure people use science to make healthy choices, rather than be swayed by popular trends and fad diets.
People want action, not information.
Of all of the customers that participated in our nutrition events, most of them wanted recipes and samples of dishes. I could talk to a customer until I was blue in the face about why whole grains are better than refined grains, but at the end of the day, most customers wanted to try a whole grain dish to see if they liked it or pick up a whole grain recipe to make themselves. I found that our handouts that promoted action, such as “5 Steps to Make a Healthy Dinner” or “How to Store Fruits and Vegetables to Maximize Shelf-Life” were significantly better received than information about the difference between butter and olive oil. Does that mean information and education are not worth it? No, but I think it means that information is better when framed in instructive ways (“roast salmon using olive oil to consume more omega-3 fats that improve your heart-health”) rather than academic ways (“omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and improve blood flow, thereby improving your heart-health”).
I had a great experience working for my last company and I will miss the wonderful people I met. But I am excited for all the new opportunities and experiences that await me at this new job- plus a much easier commute sans driving! I’ll keep you updated and let you know how it goes.