RDNs as Culinary Coaches

RDNs as Culinary Coaches

August 26, 2015

By RDBA Executive Director Annette Maggi, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

Despite the amazing popularity of celebrity chefs, the Food Network, and cooking competition reality television shows, fewer and fewer people are actually cooking. Women in the work force, juggling long commutes, kids’ high intensity activity schedules, and attention to social media have all pulled people out of the kitchen. There’s also the fact that home ec has been taken out of the curriculum at most high schools.  

The challenge is that consumers’ lack of comfort in the kitchen can make it difficult for them to achieve their health goals, whether it’s a healthy weight, managing high cholesterol levels, or instilling lifelong healthy eating habits in their kids. Data abounds suggesting that home-prepared meals are more nutritious and lower in calories. Retail dietitians know this reality well through work with consumers, and are responding by becoming culinary coaches to their shoppers.  

Consider the following suggestions to expand your healthy living programs to include more culinary opportunities:

  • Hone your own skills.  Even experience as a strong home cook can be a huge advantage to engaging your shoppers on food preparation, but there are a variety of ways RDNs can expand their culinary skills. Consider if your local area has a culinary school at which you could take some courses.  The Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics in partnership with the Food & Culinary Professionals DPG is working on a culinary certificate of training, which is targeted to launch early in 2016. This DPG also offers a culinary workshop every other year.
  • Partner with corporate chefs. More and more retailers are hiring chefs, and this colleague can be a valuable partner on healthy living programs. This professional has great culinary skills and you have great nutrition skills – a powerful combination in offering joint programs for your shoppers. This can take the shape of cooking classes or demos, or competitions for shoppers or employees.  Focus on basic kitchen skills as well as how to work with various food categories (think how to cook the perfect chicken breast, how to roast vegetables, etc).
  • Leverage culinary expertise of vendors. Most food companies have culinary talent on staff. Explore whether these professionals are available to do live events in your stores. 
  • YouTube it. More and more retail RDNs are developing videos as a way to expand their consumer reach and to showcase their retailers’ healthy living brands. Consider filming a series of cooking demos focused on key skills or themes tied to in-store events.  Some vendors may be willing to fund the various videos, an option worth exploring with category buyers and representatives from food companies.
  • Extend the ROI. It’s essential to consider ROI at the start of any program, and there are a variety of ways you can measure the ROI of culinary programs. If you have a loyalty program, track these numbers for attendees at your culinary programs and work with the appropriate team internally to determine how participation in one of your culinary programs impacts that shopper’s purchase, basket size, and frequency of trips. At the end of cooking classes, consider offering a pre-selected bag of all the ingredients for a recipe from a demo or class that the shopper can grab and take through straight to the lanes.