Protein Power, Its Not Only Meat - Dietitians Dish With Jen Heringhausen

Protein Power, Its Not Only Meat - Dietitians Dish With Jen Heringhausen

August 27, 2014

This week RDBA spoke with Chef and Dietitian Jen Heringhausen about how she combines her skills and expertise to get shoppers eating more healthfully and making better choices when it comes to protein. Protein is a top focus among Americans and even fast feeders are jumping on the band wagon. It’s important to get the message right when it comes to speaking with shoppers. Find out how Jen navigates this issue. 

You are both an RD and a Chef, how do you combine these skills in your role at HyVee?

It's an interesting collaboration! Let me just say, I am pretty lucky to be around food all day. As the dietitian, I provide grocery store tours, nutrition counseling and meal planning services based on various health concerns (lately the most common bring cholesterol-lowering foods and fructose intolerance). As the chef, I have a cold case in our Hy-Vee kitchen where I sell my "Chef Creations" - most of these being fun and unique (but also good-for-you) salads, wraps and proteins. 

I also conduct in-store and out-of-store cooking classes for adults and children at least once a week. 

Protein is a huge trend, what are your general tips for getting shoppers to make healthier decisions regarding this macronutrient?

First off, I would tell customers to be wary of foods with added protein (which there are LOTS now). For example, with cereals, check the amount of added sugar - is there more sugar than protein?

Stick with quality proteins like chicken breast (preferably hormone-free), plain Greek yogurt and eggs. 

What do you find are shoppers’ top concerns regarding protein?

The main concern is "am I getting enough?" which more than likely is yes. To calculate their daily protein needs, I simply convert their weight to kilograms and multiply by 0.8 (sedentary) to 1.8 (endurance athlete). No matter what their calculation is, I like to remind them that there are no magic foods or supplements that can replace the right diet (and the right training if they're an athlete).

In your previous job you were head chef for a vegetarian catering company, how do you incorporate that experience into your suggestions today, what about vegetarian protein sources?

I think plant-based proteins are a great choice and they're often overlooked. Ingredients like firm tofu, no-salt-added beans, edamame and quinoa are not only easy to prepare, but they are a delicious addition to several dishes. 

For my first cooking class at Hy-Vee, I partnered with a cardiologist and decided to make the theme vegetarian. For the main dish, I went with Maple-Glazed Tofu and was pleasantly surprised when I saw audience members cleaning their plates! So don't be scared to think outside the box when coming up with menu items to share with the public. If it tastes good, they will try it.

What other veggie tips do you have?

I am a firm believer in buying vegetables (and fruits) when they are at their peak of freshness. Not only will they taste better, but they are more cost effective. It is also key to know they proper cooking technique that will make those vegetables taste amazing. For example, massaging kale with olive oil, fresh lemon juice and honey or roasting cauliflower can make a world of difference. 

Also, don't skip over the canned or frozen section. No-salt-added vegetables are just as nutritious and can be very budget-friendly if you know you aren't going to eat them right away. 

What has been your favorite in store activities featuring protein?

My favorite in-store activity featuring protein would be our D.I.S.H. (Dinner Is Solved at Hy-Vee) classes. At our store, participants prep 5 meals (4 servings each) to make at home at their convenience. Each meal highlights a quality protein (e.g. sirloin steak, chicken breast, salmon). 

I also host classes featuring vegetarian protein sources. Our store is Blue Zone certified and the Blue Zone diet is primarily plant-based to we focus our menu items on seasonal produce and plant proteins like nuts, beans and grains (and these classes are filled to the brim, so clearly people are excited about trying new things!). 

Any other tips you have, to get customers more engaged, based on your role at HyVee?

My main advice would be if you have a customer who has a question about protein (or any other food), use that as your opportunity to take them to the product(s). As retail dietitians we are at an advantage being able to work inside the grocery store where we can show the customer each item and review the nutrition facts/ingredients. 

Also, nutrition education in the aisles is key. For example, putting the "dietitian's choice" signs next to (or onto) the products I recommend is a small act that will guide the customer in the right direction. 

About Jen Heringhausen:

Jen Heringhausen graduated with honors from Michigan State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in dietetics and health promotion. Following graduation, Jen completed a dietetic internship program at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Michigan, and successfully passed the national dietetics registration exam. Jen began her dietetics practice as a WIC (Women, Infants and Children) dietitian in Chicago, Illinois, and in December, 2010, Jen pursued her lifelong dream of becoming a chef by studying culinary arts at Kendall College in downtown Chicago.

After graduation from Kendall in 2012, Jen worked as the head chef of a vegetarian catering company, where she developed hundreds of healthy recipes based on seasonal fruits and vegetables. Jen is a people person, and joining the Hy Vee family provides Jen the opportunity to share her dietetic and culinary expertise with numerous customers and clients. Jen enjoys staying active, gardening, cooking for friends and family, and teaching her dog, Colby Jack, new tricks.