Posted by Alison Books

As the first registered dietitian hired at JF&CS, I did not know what to expect. I was used to working at places like Newton Wellesley Hospital or Boston University where there were many other dietitians just like me with the same professional focus. I think some of my new colleagues were even worried that I was watching what they were eating for lunch, but many more were intrigued by the notion of what having a nutrition program at JF&CS could mean for our clients.

During my first week here, I was asked how I would change the food we provide during the monthly JF&CS Family Table food distributions. I knew the answers right away: more whole grains, lower sugar foods, and more fresh or frozen produce, to name a few. I also knew that once you changed something, you miss the opportunity to collect baseline information from which to track changes, as well as measure impact.

I called one of my colleagues from Boston University, Roberta Durschlag, who is not only a registered dietitian with a PhD, but is also a long time Family Table volunteer. She said almost immediately, "We should do a research study." I agreed and for the next year and a half, Boston University collected data to determine the nutrition needs of food pantry recipients and barriers to meeting those needs.

The results of this study are not only helping us change the foods we provide (this year it is our goal to go 100% whole grain), but we are also sharing information with other food banks and pantries. When Dr. Durschlag and I recently presented our poster of this research at the American Dietetic Association food and nutrition conference, hunger professionals from New York, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island were interested in our work and how it could benefit their food banks and pantries.

The findings of such studies can lead to changes that have a dramatic impact on people's lives. According to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control, only 26% of adults eat vegetables three or more time a day. But we know we're on the right track when we hear a client say, "We love getting the fresh produce each month. Everyone is so kind, helpful, and understanding; I truly feel that Family Table cares for my welfare and that of my family."

Alison Books is the director of Hunger & Nutrition at JF&CS. As a licensed, registered dietitian helping the community, she has a particular passion for making the choice to eat healthy foods easier for all.