I love working in nutrition. It’s a passion, so of course just being able to dedicate time to doing what I love would make my heart sing, however I do feel incredibly lucky within my current line of work.
I often receive emails asking how I got into nutrition and what I do for work as a nutritionist, so I thought I’d share a little on what I studied and my current job + a very special project I've been working on.
Firstly, and a question I get asked a lot - how did you get into nutrition/become a nutritionist?
I studied a Bachelor of Science with a double major in human nutrition and physiology (through Massey University in Auckland). Nutrition has always been a passion and the path I wanted to venture down, whereas the physiology major was more of an interest – I just find the human body really fascinating. But of course the more we know about how the body works, the more we understand how nutrients interact and are used within the body – so it’s all interlinked. If you’re considering heading to university to study nutrition, I’d totally recommend considering a double major if this is a possibility for you – many science majors and their papers cross over with nutrition (e.g. sports and exercise, physiology, psychology), so it’s a great way to further expand your knowledge on another area applicable to nutrition. I’d also recommend (and once again if it’s a possibility for you around work/studies/life) putting your feelers out for volunteer or paid work within the industry while studying. I did some volunteer work at the NZ Heart Foundation and a nutrition clinic during my studies, which was fun and gave me a little insight into the industry.
Secondly - what are you currently doing for work as a nutritionist?
I’m currently working in both clinical and community nutrition. Clinically I offer nutrition consults through Feel Fresh Nutrition in Central Auckland, where I work with individuals/couples in providing them with the tools and knowledge to help guide them towards their health and wellness goals. Clinical work is really fun! It’s so satisfying to see changes in your client’s health, and really makes you feel like you’re making difference. I approach each client on an individual level, taking into account not just a person’s health and wellness concerns, but also their budget, lifestyle and time constraints to create a tailored practical plan that will lead to sustainable long-term changes - after all, each and every one of us is different, as should our advice be. For more information on Feel Fresh Nutrition and my bio click here.
I’m also working in community nutrition at a care and protection residential facility for children and young people in South Auckland, which provides both temporary and permanent care for those unable to live with their families. I’ve been working as their onsite nutritionist since early 2015, and within this role provide ongoing nutritional advice and support to the live-in caregivers who look after the children, as well as running a food education program with the children in our care. The food education program has been a real highlight – the program has been set up in conjunction with Garden to Table, a food literacy program targeted at school-aged children, which consists of weekly gardening and cooking lessons using the produce we grow. In the lead up of launching the program we built a large onsite organic kitchen garden, complete with macrocarpa lined raised garden beds, a shade house, glass house, worm farm, compost bin and a chicken coop. The whole project has been wonderful at giving me a deeper appreciation for where our food comes from, sustainability and eating organic. It’s also kickass being able to wander down to the garden on breaks and forage for the freshest tastiest veggies to include for lunch.
It really is a neat job – working with children is both fun and rewarding, and it’s wonderful being able to shape little minds towards making healthier food choices. Building healthy habits starts young, with our direct food environment playing a big role in establishing our perception of food. If our children are brought up surrounded by highly processed and refined foods in brightly coloured packaged boxes, they'll begin to grow and think that’s what food is and that’s where food comes from, when sadly it's not.
One of the neat things about gardening and cooking with kids is that they love getting involved. They love getting their hands dirty, whether with soil in the garden or with flour in the kitchen - it's like one big science experiment adding together this and that ingredient, or watching a plant go from a teeny tiny seed to a blooming sunflower. It’s educational, experiential (i.e. learning through doing), while still being heaps of fun. For many kids the sight of a carrot pulled fresh out of the soil, covered in dirt, with tuffs of leaves flying everywhere, is exciting and maybe odd at first when compared to the perfectly scrubbed hair-less carrots we find at the supermarket. Or the idea that tomatoes can be almost every colour of the rainbow, rather then just red. It is neat watching their faces move from apprehension to delight.
Gardening and cooking offer so many other education spin-offs too, such as numeracy (counting seeds/flowers/fruits/veggies/ingredients), literacy (reading recipes or seed packets, expanded vocabularies) and of course science - the outdoor garden really is one big classroom. I encourage parents/caregivers to get their children involved in whatever way you can around food – I guarantee they’ll have more of an interest in eating their veggies at mealtime if they’ve had a role in the growing or preparation. Jobs we take for granted/maybe find boring in the garden or kitchen, such as watering the plants or mashing the potatoes, will get them excited.
And for those thinking of growing their own food, the perks are HUGELY rewarding – it’s sustainable and good for the environment, economically it can save you so much money (I find this particularly handy with herbs and salad greens, as they have quite a short shelf-life and can sometimes be expensive), it’s convenient, it's therapeutic, and of course veggies will be at their tastiest and offer the most nutrition when picked and eaten direct from the garden - the time from ground to supermarket to plate (including the transporting, processing, packaging and storage inbetween) may affect freshness, nutritional content and taste.
On a side note - a special project I've recently finished up was the creation of our very own cookbook at work titled "Fresh From The Garden"! The book is inspired by our kitchen garden adventures, and contains recipes using ingredients sourced from nature, such as vegetables, fruits, eggs or honey, which will hopefully provide inspiration as to whatever's growing in the garden. We were lucky enough to recipe contributors including the amazing Nadia Lim, Head chef and Dietician at My Food Bag, and Jason van Dorsten, Executive chef at Café Hanoi. The children in our care illustrated the book and my boyfriend and I shot all the food photography - it's quite a special piece.
Cookbooks are $30 each with all proceeds fundraising towards the gardening and cooking project at Dingwall Trust. If you'd like to order a copy contact me here.
Finally - between the above I also dedicate time to blogging here at Healthy Always. Blogging has been such a lovely creative outlet. I love spending time in the kitchen, preparing yummy and nourishing things to eat, and then sharing the ideas (and hopefully inspiration) online with others. Social media is a very powerful and effective way to share messages, and to connect and collaborate with like-minded people. It's also a space filled with opportunity - I am so grateful for everything that has come out of my blogging journey.
So between all of this life does get pretty busy, but I try hard to practise what I preach by looking after myself, eating right, making time to exercise, and having boundaries in place with work and rest. As I said, it's a passion - so it never really feels like work.