Supermarket dietitians, for your healthy-food queries

Dietitian Amber Badeau at the Olney ShopRite where she runs nutrition programs, featuring healthy snack samples, weight-loss challenges, and recipes.
Dietitian Amber Badeau at the Olney ShopRite where she runs nutrition programs, featuring healthy snack samples, weight-loss challenges, and recipes. (CHARLES FOX / Staff)
Posted: July 19, 2013

Almost six years ago, longtime registered dietitian Mary Ann Moylan traded her job at Lehigh Valley Hospital for what might strike some as a strange choice. She'd be doing the same counseling, educating, and advocating for smart food choices, but inside the Giant Super Food Store in Willow Grove, an hour's commute from her Allentown home.

"This is where we should be, on the preventive side, helping people stay healthy," Moylan says, "instead of getting them to eat healthy after they get sick."

Question: Why a supermarket?

Answer: I didn't know anyone who did this at the time, but think about it. Where does everyone come first? To the grocery store to buy food. That's where important choices are made. For a dietitian, this is very exciting.

Q: What do you offer busy shoppers?

A: We not only help people shop healthier, we go in the aisles and help them decipher the different labels for breads and cereals, your tomato sauces, which ones are lower in sodium and lower in fat. We can help prevent so many medical issues, and people can make appointments for one-on-ones.

Q: Who comes for one-on-ones?

A: I get people referred from hospital physicians, cardiac rehab units, from gyms, from physical therapists. Regular customers come and afterwards, many of them refer their family members, relatives, and friends.

Q: How long is a consultation and what does it cost?

A: It's an hour, maybe longer. They pay $20, then get a $20 Giant gift card in return, so it's really free.

Q: What do you talk about?

A: I ask them first what is their goal, why they're coming to see me, what are they looking for - specific individual nutrition guidelines or more general guidance? I ask what do they eat, what do they like and not like, food allergies, what type of exercise do they do, activities, what type of job do they have, their daily schedule. I get the whole picture, height, weight, age, along with what medical issues they have, what meds they're on.

Q: Then what?

A: I do a nutrition assessment, maybe an individualized meal plan. I see if they want to lose weight, if they're prediabetic, have high cholesterol or blood pressure issues, celiac disease, or gluten intolerance. Then we go out in the store and do some shopping.

Q: Do you tell your clients what to eat?

A: I tell them, "We'll come up with an individualized meal plan with everything you like." I count calories for them. I set up a plan for how many starches, how many proteins, fruits, milk, or fat. They have to eat according to a proper time schedule; better to have six little meals a day than three big ones. They cannot skip meals or go long periods of time without eating.

Q: Give me an example of what might be part of an individualized plan.

A: With one client, I fit in her favorite casserole, which has cheese. She loves cheese. You can have cheese, but it needs to be lower in salt and fat. She had no idea, so I took her to the cheese department and had her taste low-salt, low-fat Swiss cheeses. She said, "Oh my heavens, this tastes really good." Then we did an exercise plan. Any type of exercise you like is the best exercise to start with.

Q: How did that client do?

A: In 21 months, she lost 113 pounds. She comes back every three weeks. She went from walking to jogging to running and going to the gym. She's off her meds. Her goal now is maintenance.

Contact Virginia A. Smith at 215-854-5720 or

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