While Registered Dietitians have worked hard in the last few decades to increase their visibility and standing in the world, I can’t help but feel like we are still largely a misunderstood part of the health and wellness community. When I tell people (proudly) that I am a Registered Dietitian, I usually hear: “Oh, so you are going to tell me all the ‘bad foods’ that I’m eating,” and the like. It is true that many RD’s work to help individuals refine their eating habits, but many more do much more than that. Registered Dietitians also work throughout the community in schools, public health clinics, nursing homes, fitness centers, food management, food industry, universities, sports teams, research and private practice. We are the health and nutrition experts that often go unnoticed. We want you to be healthy, and we don’t mind shouting it from the rooftops from time to time!
In honor of the 40th Anniversary of NNM®, I thought it would be neat to take a moment and talk about how I, as a Registered Dietitian, try to make the world a little bit healthier…
I am a Foodservice Dietitian, and a Chef. While I have spent many years working in restaurants, resorts, hospitals and senior living, today I find myself devoted to children. Currently I am a Chef Manager for a medium sized public school district and am responsible for overseeing the production of nearly 16,000 meals every day. With so much national focus on childhood obesity, it’s important to look at our food…
As a dietitian I write the menus for all of our schools; from grades k-12 and beyond. I work hard with our product suppliers and food brokerages to ensure that our district can stand behind the foods we are serving. It’s not easy to find suitable foods amongst the sea of highly process, sodium ridden, and sugar laden food-like items being mass produced these days. I’ve focused on increasing the amount of “scratch” cooking in our facility, while simultaneously reducing the amount of saturated fat and sodium in our breakfast and lunches. I also help manage a variety of different government programs that help our team serve a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables at every meal. This unfortunately, for many of our low-income students, (which is over 55% of our total student population) may be the only time they see fruits and veggies in their day.
It’s not easy – sometimes the differences between which foods I know to be healthy, and the ones our students like to eat are too vast. But as a Chef, I also get to be very creative – there is always something new to try. Sometimes writing a new recipe feels like beating my head against a wall. Especially, when I have to spend less than half to do it than the typical north-westerner spends on their morning cup of coffee.
I have a compassionate side to my job as well. Each year more and more children are diagnosed with food allergies and food sensitivities; and they need healthy meals too. I help to provide allergen free meals, and in some cases texture modified foods for our students with advanced needs. Additionally, all children have special needs when it comes to food safety. Because their immune systems are still growing and developing, I also need to make sure that every meal we serve has been received, prepared, stored, handled, and transported safely to reduce the risk of a food borne illness outbreak.
But my job is also a lot of fun. I get to be a part of helping a new generation of people learn to love food. To introduce the joy and excitement around trying new things, of understanding where food comes from, and why it’s good for us. And I get to do it before decades of marketing, and diet-driven societal norms fill their innocent sponge-like minds with the thoughts of “bad foods.” As a Registered Dietitian, I work every day with the knowledge that we can make things better. They are getting better, and I hope my students think so, too.