The St. Louis Area Foodbank is lucky enough to have a dietitian on staff, Jenny Duez. Jenny has been with the Foodbank for three years as part of our Partner Agency Services team. We interviewed Jenny about what it’s like to be a dietitian and the work she does at the Foodbank and beyond.
What does a dietitian do?
A dietitian is a board-certified food and nutrition expert. They are highly educated in the field of nutrition and dietetics (the science of food, nutrition, and their impact on human health).
Dietitians provide evidence-based medical nutrition therapy and nutritional counseling tailored to meet an individual’s needs. There are four main domains of practice for dietitians: clinical, food service management, community, and research.
What’s the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist?
The main differences between a Registered Dietitian and nutritionist is their qualifications, scope of expertise, and legal status as practitioners. To earn the credentials of Registered Dietitian (RD) or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), a person needs to complete the criteria set forth by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. This includes:
- A bachelor’s degree with coursework approved by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics
- A minimum of 1,200 hours of supervised experience at an accredited healthcare facility, community agency, or foodservice corporation
- A national exam administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration
- A dietitian must meet continuing professional education requirements each year to maintain board certification.
In the United States, the title “nutritionist” can be applied to anyone who offers general nutritional advice. Nutritionists are not as regulated as dietitians, and even those who do not have any professional nutrition training can legally call themselves nutritionists.
What is the benefit of having a dietitian at the Foodbank?
Hunger and health are deeply connected. The St. Louis Area Foodbank places high priority on providing nutritious foods for our clients. Having a Registered Dietitian on staff at a Foodbank can provide that nutrition education, support, and guidance not only for our agencies but for the individuals within the community that need our assistance.
Many low-income individuals do not always have the tools, knowledge, or education that allow for them to make healthful choices. Many of the populations we serve are in an already vulnerable and immunocompromised state of health. Therefore, it is even more important that we are not only providing them with nutritious foods but also the tools to build their self-efficacy and set them up for future success.
It is hard enough to make the decision to go to a food pantry. It can be overwhelming to be handed food items that you have never heard of and don’t know how to utilize. Having a nutrition team on staff to provide ample resources such as recipe cards, educational materials, on-site nutrition education, cooking demonstrations, etc. can ease that burden.
What sort of activities do you do for the Foodbank?
This year we have been focusing on building our nutrition resources, implementing nutrition nudges in our client choice pantries, and providing cooking demonstrations at partner agencies. We have dietetic interns throughout the year who have been assisting in creating recipes that we provide on our website and for our agencies.
Many times, unique items are donated to the Foodbank or food pantries that people may not know how to utilize. Having recipes available online and at our pantries can assist in moving those items off the shelves and encouraging folks to try new foods. Since we do not have a team devoted specifically to nutrition at this time, cooking demonstrations are done depending on staff and intern availability. Meeting people where they are at and showing them how to utilize item’s they are receiving is a great way to build self-efficacy and encourage healthy cooking for our clients.
We also host bi-monthly Food Safety Training for our agencies and partners here at the Foodbank. This is an opportunity for them to renew their required food safety certification and learn how to safely handle the food they are distributing at their agencies.
What are some of your favorite budget-friendly meals and snacks? Why are they good for you?
There are several go-to items that I love that are budget-friendly while still providing essential nutrients. When shopping on a budget, my biggest tip for consumers is to plan-ahead. Think about your meals and snacks for the week and try to find items that you can use in a variety of ways. Below are a few of my favorite go-to budget friendly items:
Oats are cheap and easy to cook! One canister of oats can stretch to make a lot of breakfasts in a household. Families can mix it with milk or water and add canned/fresh fruit or nuts to make a nutritious and filling meal. Overnight oats are also a great for meal prep if you are in a rush in the morning!
In my opinion, instant brown rice is one of the best staples to have in anyone’s kitchen! Cooking up a pot of instant brown rice and mixing it with beans and veggies is a quick and healthy meal that families can make using food pantry ingredients.
Food pantries usually have a variety of beans, and this can be an item that folks are often unsure on how to use. Beans are incredibly versatile and can be used in soups, stir fries, salads, etc. They’re filled with fiber and protein. Look for lower sodium varieties, which are normally priced the same as their higher sodium counterparts.
Cans or Pouches of Fish
Cans and pouches of fish like tuna or salmon are items packed with protein and omega-3 fatty acids. The pouches are especially nice since they’re lighter and more portable than cans – great for the homeless population that may be using the emergency food options or for people who are often on the go throughout the week.
Nuts are rich in healthy fats and contain protein, and they are also calorie dense – this can be especially useful for children that may be struggling to meet their needs. Consider different types if you find them on sale: peanuts, almonds, pistachios, pecans, etc. If they are unsalted, even better!
The Foodbank is proud to have Jenny as part of our team. Her knowledge and experience help the Foodbank and the people we serve. Happy National Dietitians Day!