To celebrate National Nutrition Month, NWA will be spotlighting members who are registered dietitians and/or nutritionists about the nutrition education and support they give to millions of WIC participants across the country. Check back throughout March for more member spotlights!
Q: What led you to become a nutritionist?
My roots come from Aroostook County, Maine, where my grandfather was a potato farmer. I was surrounded by the concept of “farm-to-table” and was involved in the production process from a young age. Growing up, I also participated in sports, which bolstered my passion for health and wellness. As we know, food is an essential part of everyone's everyday living and plays a substantial role in overall health and wellbeing. I found that food science was complex and involved individualized direction. This influenced my desire to help guide people of all ages towards disease prevention, health maintenance, and disease reoccurrence.
Q: What are some of the biggest nutrition myths that you have heard?
Many myths are circulating, especially with the WIC's heightened presence of social media platforms. Many people share personal opinions or information with limited to no scientific evidence. I think the biggest myth I would like to highlight is fad diets. Many diets claim that you will lose a certain 'amount of weight', but in reality, diets do not provide consistent results for each individual who tries them and may not benefit everyone's health. It is best to talk with a Registered Dietitian to discover what works best for your body while considering your medical history and medications.
Q: How does WIC's nutrition program differ from other similar programs?
WIC differs from other similar programs by providing individualized nutrition and breastfeeding counseling. The WIC benefits are structured around the Dietary Guidelines for Americans for age and pregnancy/breastfeeding status. During the counseling session, participants can learn about these guidelines that correspond with developmental milestones and ask questions. Another difference is that the benefit packages consist of certain food groups in specific quantities, whereas other programs issue a monetary value for general food purchases each month. The benefit structure WIC has can influence the presence of healthier foods in the home, increase daily nutrient intake, and introduce new foods.
Q: As a nutritionist/dietitian, how has the increase in vegetable and fruit benefit impacted participants in your community?
The increase in fruit and vegetable benefits has been an enormous help to participants in my community. When reviewing the food package with a participant, they are so pleased and appreciate the increase. With prices rising for other essential goods, more people have not had to ration the quantity or type of fruits and vegetables to purchase. It can also help the family purchase new fruits and vegetables to try!
Q: What are some budget-friendly/money-saving tips and tricks you share with WIC participants to help them stretch their food budget?
A couple of my favorite and most used include:
Use extra pureed baby foods to make pancakes, waffles, muffins, etc. to save money and provide healthy and texture-friendly food to advancing older infants.
Buy whole fruits/vegetables rather than pre-cut. They tend to be cheaper and just require preparation at home.
Purchase frozen or canned fruit/vegetables without additives. Both tend to be cheaper than fresh depending on the season, are frozen/canned at peak ripeness, and are just as healthy as fresh fruits/vegetables.
Q: What are some of the biggest takeaways from food labels, and why should participants care about them?
First off, allergies! Food companies are required by law to list the top 8 common food allergens on food labels, including peanut, tree nut, milk, eggs, wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish. This helps consumers easily identify products that contain food allergens and prevent reactions. Additionally, I always like to point people to the ingredients list. You can see what makes up the food and from highest to lowest amounts. The first ingredients labeled are in the highest quantities in that product and decrease in amount as you go down the list. These two takeaways are vital because they allow participants/parents to know what they consume or provide to their children.
Q: Culture is a huge part of how families prepare and eat food. How can WIC better embrace cultural food and meals into the WIC Food Package?
I believe knowledge is power. State or local agencies could train WIC Nutritionists to familiarize them with other cultures and their corresponding staple foods.
Social media is also a great outlet to tie in recipes of all cultures using WIC ingredients.
Ask more questions! I recently had a family from Africa who primarily prepares meals from their culture. The mom was stating how she was having a hard time feeding some of those foods to her toddler because it required utensils. After asking what kinds of foods were being offered, I gave the mom suggestions on how to provide the same foods but in a developmentally friendly way for her toddler. This example also provides a great opportunity to review WIC foods and utilize them in certain staple dishes.
Q: What advice would you give someone interested in a career in nutrition?
Be curious and explore your options to find what best fits you! There are so many nutrition-related careers and work settings you are bound to find what you are looking for. Explore the jobs or workplaces you don't think you will like because they could turn into something you love once you shadow or try it yourself!
Reanna Plourde, M.S. RD, CLC, is a Registered Dietitian and Breastfeeding Coordinator at WIC in Bangor, Maine. She provides nutrition and breastfeeding education to families and runs the clinic's Instagram and TikTok accounts. Plourde has her B.S. in Food Science and Human Nutrition and M.S. in Food Science and Human Nutrition from the University of Maine.