In the Green Room with Jen Haugen
Jan 6, 2014
I met Jen at a communications training for dietitians last May and was immediately impressed with her, and very interested in her work as a supermarket dietitian, blogger and media spokesperson. We had so much to discuss and share! I so enjoyed getting to know Jen and learning about her work and I hope you enjoy this interview with her!
MELISSA: How did you become interested in a career in nutrition, and how long have you been an RD?
JEN: I have been a registered dietitian for more than 12 years. I spent 7 of those years as a clinical dietitian at Mayo Clinic and most recently as a supermarket dietitian at Hy-Vee in Austin, Minnesota for the last 5-1/2 years. I feel like I have always been interested in food and nutrition, from the time I was reading my mom’s cookbooks as a third grader. I loved reading through old recipes as if I were reading a novel. I was also a 4-H member and each year I took food and nutrition projects to the county fair. My dad was a corn and soybean farmer (since retired) and my mom loved gardening, so between the two of them, knowing where my food came from was just part of my everyday life. However, I really didn’t think of dietetics as a career choice until I job shadowed my dietitian aunt, Peggy Saxton, and loved how she was able to help people with their health by encouraging them to change how they were eating. I love working with people and love how being a nutrition professional is so practical, because we all eat!
MELISSA: How cool that your aunt is a dietitian! It’s so helpful to shadow someone to see what a job/profession is like in real life. I remember when I was in college and I saw a dietitian “in action” for the first time. It was the Southern Illinois University Wellness Center dietitian (Kate Zager) and she was talking with a group of female students about body image and healthy eating. That’s when I knew that was what I wanted to do. Kate became my first mentor and she’s still an inspiration and a great friend to this day!
Tell me a little bit about your nutrition philosophy – what are you known for?
JEN: Most people in my community know me as the person who started the first garden in the nation for kids at a supermarket.
I had such a strong desire to do this after seeing numerous overweight kids in my own community as I took my kids to swimming lessons. I couldn’t help but think that I could assist in teaching these kids about healthy eating in a fun way – through gardening. By showing kids where their food comes from, how to grow it and cook it, and make it taste good, I have witnessed kids making healthier choices and also spreading those choices to their families. I think my idea came from thinking about how I grew up on a farm, and knew where everything on my plate originated from – and I had a hand in growing that food. I developed strong connections and appreciation for the plants and animals that feed us, which made me that much more aware of how what I ate contributed to my health.
My nutrition philosophy comes from just that – knowing where your food comes from, how it’s produced and how it gets to the plate is an important journey that can bring appreciation and mindfulness. And it’s important to know the facts about food and the food system to help consumers make smart and healthy choices. It’s interesting how my passion is becoming telling the story of food from the farm to the kitchen table by working with brands and food commodity groups to make that path transparent for consumers. Loving that!
MELISSA: I love how your background and experiences are really coming through in what you do, your values and your way of communicating about nutrition.
What prompted you to start your blog Down-to-Earth Dietitian and when did you start it?
JEN: I wanted to start a blog after some serious life coaching, thanks to Chere Bork. I wrote my first post in March of 2012 to share ideas that I would give to customers at my supermarket. That was also the same year I created a manual and curriculum for my gardening for kids program. So “Down-to-Earth” really made sense to me because I grew up growing my own food and I had been gardening with my own kids since they were one year old, and then, here I was creating a program for other RDs to teach kids the connection of fresh food to good health through gardening. I realized that I could really teach the basics of connecting with your family over food by growing it together and cooking it together. I also hear frequently how I’m “down-to-earth” providing practical ideas. It’s my love of gardening and cooking with my family that motivates me to blog.
MELISSA: I just love your blog and am amazed at how prolific you are! And how smart of you to work with Chere Bork – she’s one of the most positive, uplifting persons I’ve ever met.
What other writing or media/communications do you specialize in? What do you enjoy most about it?
JEN: I conduct weekly television cooking segments on ABC 6 News, write weekly newspaper columns in the Austin Daily Herald, write my blog, and engage in social media: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Google +.
I have been working with the media for 5 years. Because of my varied career experiences over the last 12 years, I love being able to communicate with confidence practical ideas that are simple to employ at home for families to help them make healthier choices. Working with the media is something I have definitely grown to love – I love putting together the segment information sheet, organizing the key messages of the segment (this provides a creative outlet for me) and actually doing the segment. I have met some great people at the TV station I work with and I have learned a lot by working with them.
MELISSA: I really don’t know how you find the time to do it all! How do you prioritize everything and get so much done?
JEN: Not sure, Melissa! My mind is always working, which sometimes can drive me crazy, but I am more mindful than ever about my time. My top priorities are my family, health and balance. I’ve had to say no to quite a few things in order to keep those priorities, but it helps me not say yes to everything and then get stressed out. I am also a list maker and goal setter, especially using visuals like a vision board. It helps me know what’s really important and make my decisions based on those priorities. Of course – my iPhone is a life saver at times!
MELISSA: Thanks for being open and honest about this! I’m a list maker (and post it note maker) as well, and I would LOVE to have a white board in my office someday! In the meantime, I have taken sheets of my son’s easel paper and created my own “white board” on my office closet doors. I’m a visual person and this really does help me keep an eye on priorities!
What skills or experiences do RDs need to cultivate if they want to write a blog like you?
JEN: Before starting your blog, I would recommend doing some reflection on why you want to write it, what you really want to write about and defining who you are writing it to. It takes time to figure that out but it can really help you make your blog successful. Write about something you could write without pay. (Because that is what you will be doing, so it’s got to be something you love.) Helpful experiences? Writing in any form helps you hone your voice, being willing to let others take a peek into your life and being okay with criticism.
MELISSA: I couldn’t agree more. That’s what I struggled with when I wanted to start a blog. I knew I could do a ‘mommy blog’ – Lord knows I have more than enough material for that with a 5 year old, a 14 year old, a pre-metabolic syndrome husband and aging baby boomer parents. But that did not excite me in the least. I live that all day – I don’t want to write about that! But when I came up with the idea to interview other dietitians, I thought – I could do that all day, every day! And I knew that’s what I had to blog about.
What comes naturally for you and what do you have to work hard on when it comes to writing?
JEN: Writing about ideas to make families healthier comes naturally to me, what I work hard at is to add my personality to my writing. After doing my blog for a year and a half, I am noticing that I am growing and also being smarter about really defining what I want to blog about. My favorite quote from registered dietitian, Chere Bork: You can do anything, not everything.
MELISSA: What a great quote. So true! I, too, felt like I started getting my “blog muscles” after one year. It seemed like then I had more courage to let my voice and personality shine through. Which is funny, because I coach RDs on this in my communications workshops. I’m so passionate about them getting their voices out there, but then I’m somewhat reluctant to do that myself. You’re putting yourself out there – and it’s a little scary. But we HAVE to do that as RDs or our voices are going to be drowned out by the vocal minority who are not experts in our field.
What is your number one tip for other RDs who want to write a blog?
JEN: Stay true to who you are. It’s easy to read other RD blogs (or anyone’s blog for that matter) and be sidetracked into wanting to be more like them. But just stay true to who you are. Your audience will love your blog for it.
MELISSA: Great advice! There’s probably nothing more important than that!
What is your number one tip for other RDs who want to do other media/communications?
JEN: Put yourself out there. It’s easy to dream about being on TV or writing a blog or having a newspaper column, but if you let fear get in your way, it will paralyze you. Just go for it. If you get told no, try another avenue. You have to be proactive and confident about what you can provide. I wouldn’t be on a weekly TV segment or have a column in the newspaper if I hadn’t been proactive and pitched the idea.
MELISSA: Excellent advice!! And an excellent article. You really do have to get out of your comfort zone sometimes to grow.
Please share one story/experience that either taught you a lot or you think would help other RDs.
JEN: When I was working at Mayo Clinic, I was offered the opportunity to be a part of a Diabetes DVD, communicating the nutrition portion. It was my first time in this type of situation, just staring into the camera and talking. There were at least 25 people in the room staring at me while this was all taking place (they were part of the crew) and all I could do is stare like a deer in headlights. This was way before my weekly TV experience I have now! But I persevered. I couldn’t let the fear get to me and one thing the crew taught me was – pretend the camera is your grandmother (or someone you care about). It was an overwhelming and nerve-wracking time, but I did my best (and it wasn’t that great) and they used it and it became part of a DVD that was on sale nationally. I am so glad I had that experience because it started a passion for working with media that continues today. Everyone has a “first time” that maybe didn’t go so well – it’s okay. It doesn’t mean that working with the media is over.
MELISSA: That is so true! So many dietitians have horror stories of their first interviews or even “nightmare” interviews even after years of experience. Some of my biggest media nightmares have happened in the last year or two – and I’ve been doing media on a weekly basis for more than 15 years! If you just keep learning and try to have a thick skin, you’ll continue to grow and improve. And at the end of the day – more dietitians out there is the goal – not perfection!
Do you have any tips or resources you’d like to share that would help RDs improve their communication skills?
JEN: Yes, people!
Chere Bork – A dietitian with so much enthusiasm for helping you find the life you want to love to live!
Teresa Pangan – A dietitian that helps you figure out your brand, your why and who your target market is!
NEDPG – A wealth of information, inspiration and motivation to become all you want to be.
MELISSA: LOVE these! Thank you for mentioning me and two other RDs who are doing so much to help other RDs. I always encourage dietitians to turn to other dietitians for support. And NEDPG is the absolute BEST resource for any dietitian – even students!
I heard you wanted to be a Food Network Star – tell us about that!
JEN: I applied to be on the 8th Season of Food Network Star – with a show idea of “Down-to-Earth Dietitian”. Obviously, I didn’t make it! But it was a great learning and reflection experience just filling out the application. My son, who was 8 at the time, was my camera guy and held my cue cards and my daughter, who was 6 at the time, was the real star of the show.
I think Jen deserves a standing ovation for all the great work she is doing in nutrition communications! I’m certainly looking forward to keeping up with her and seeing what she does next, and I hope you will, too!
Like what you read here? Hear what other nutrition experts have to say about careers, communication and chasing their dreams. Visit the Directory of Dietitian Interviews and be inspired!
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I’m the Guilt-Free RD® – “Because food shouldn’t make you feel bad!™”. So, on my Food for Thought blog I’m exploring the secret ingredients needed to enjoy your food with health in mind. I’m also a “Dietitian Enthusiast” so I’m showcasing interviews with dietitians. My “How To” Series shares practical advice to help boost communication skills and gain more visibility, influence and success.
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