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In honor of National Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Day, we’re introducing you to Nicole Spain. She joined our team as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) in 2001. Nicole has a bachelor’s degree in Health and Sports Studies and a master’s degree in Nutrition. Thanks to her work, our schools serve a variety of nutritious meals each day and continue to promote the development of healthy habits. We’re thrilled to talk with her about her experience in the field, her favorite Grow Fit recipes, and some of her most memorable moments as part of our LCG family.
Why did you decide to become a registered dietitian?
Originally, I wanted to become a registered dietitian to work with oncology patients. My grandmother passed away when I was 10 from cancer, and I felt working with oncology patients to help them get healthier would help fill that void. But while I was doing my internship, I learned that I wanted to prevent cancer and other diseases rather than treat them, so working with children became my passion. I wanted to help them lead healthy lifestyles that could then lead to them growing up and continuing with a healthy life.
What credentials does someone need to become a registered dietitian?
Registered dietitians must go to an accredited undergraduate university and then be matched. It’s similar to the matching program for becoming a doctor. The program cycles you through clinical, community, and foodservice rotations while you take classes at the same time. After going through these rotations and completing the classes, you must pass an exam to earn your credentials.
Can you take us through your typical day?
Almost every single day is different. My main project is to work bi-annually on our menus and standardized recipes for our schools. We have a fall/winter menu and a spring/summer menu with about 30 to 50 different recipes for each menu cycle. I also assist with training for our staff, work with our marketing department as a guest blogger, and partner with the purchasing department to find new products.
Has there been a shift to find more diverse recipes?
Yeah! Over the last few years, we’ve incorporated a lot of different ethnic recipes. We have recipes like Somali Chickpeas, Moroccan Chicken Stew, Kati Kati Chicken, Greek Baked Lima Beans, and more.
What separates our menus from other child care centers?
Through our Grow Fit initiative, we’ve made a lot of positive changes. We eliminated all juice on our menus in favor of milk or water. We also eliminated 100% of the fried foods from our menus. We became a partner in the Veggies Early and Often campaign led by the Partnership for a Healthier America which focuses on serving children more vegetables at an earlier age. I think we have more than 30 varieties of vegetables on our menus now. We also changed to foods rich in 100% whole grains, and we’ve been serving more lean proteins and limiting deli meats.
Do you have a favorite Grow Fit recipe?
One of my favorite Grow Fit recipes, which I somewhat altered from a family recipe, is the Saucy Beef Bake. At the schools, we make it with our lean beef crumble. It’s combined with a creamy tomato sauce and layered with whole-grain egg noodles. It’s a favorite in my home and I hear schools enjoy it too.
Could you share some of the memorable moments you’ve had in your role here?
One was way back when I first started. I got a call from one of my school directors after we had just put fresh oranges on our menus. It doesn’t seem like anything to get too excited about, but this director called and said that some of her students had never seen fresh fruit before! They were so excited. We made a positive change in these kids’ lives – maybe they’ll ask for fresh oranges at home or they’ll continue to eat them when they get older. Another proud moment was being a part of the team that helped our company earn the Partner of the Year award from the Partnership for a Healthier America in 2017. I’m excited and proud to be a part of the team that accomplished that and is continuing to prioritize healthy practices at our schools.