Dietitian sprouts into new role

Published 7:01am Monday, June 23, 2014
Hy-Vee nutritionalist Jen Haugen demonstrates how to plant spinach seeds during the planting of the One-Step Garden in May. Herald file photo
Hy-Vee nutritionalist Jen Haugen demonstrates how to plant spinach seeds during the planting of the One-Step Garden in May. Herald file photo

Jen Haugen is trading in her post at a garden and a grocery store for a spot in Austin schoolrooms.

Haugen is leaving her dietitian position at Hy-Vee to take the new food and nutrition services dietitian position at Austin Public Schools. Her office will be located at Austin High School, but she will work with all the schools.

“This position really gives me an opportunity to focus on nutrition with kids,” Haugen said.

Hy-Vee dietitian Jen Haugen stands out in the Sprouts garden outside of the store in May of 2013. Herald file photo
Hy-Vee dietitian Jen Haugen stands out in the Sprouts garden outside of the store in May of 2013. Herald file photo

Haugen is very familiar with child nutrition. At Hy-Vee she formed Sprouts: Get Out and Grow — recently renamed Hy-Vee One-Step Garden — in 2011 as a gardening program to introduce children to healthy, homegrown foods. After the garden’s success in Austin, Hy-Vee corporate took Haugen’s program to dozens of Hy-Vee stores in eight states.

In her new position, Haugen will work with Food and Nutrition Director Mary Weikum to promote health and nutrition throughout Austin schools, and optimize nutritional offers in the district.

Weikum decided to hire a dietitian after her previous assistant retired this last spring. Her goal was to have someone oversee the nutrient needs of students and help school comply with new regulations under the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which calls for more fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lower sodium in school food.

“[We wanted] someone on staff that has the understanding, education and experience to help with the changes coming forward,” Weikum said. “We were just thrilled that she was interested.”

In her new role, Haugen will visit schools to see what the students would like to see offered, and she’ll combine those suggestions in a healthy way to introduce food items that students will enjoy. She’ll also assist students with special dietary needs, such as gluten allergies and diabetes to make sure the schools meet the students’ needs.

“I am very excited and I’m looking forward to this new challenge,” Haugen said.

Yet, she won’t make any drastic changes anytime soon. Haugen said the plan is to work with Weikum to see where the school district currently stands, so she can better determine what the next step will be.

“The first many weeks will be spent analyzing what the current menu is, then we will begin making changes to menus,” Weikum said. “This is going to be a many-year process.”

Haugen is excited to bring her knowledge and experience from Hy-Vee and her seven years as a clinical dietitian for the Mayo Clinic to the schools. Haugen hopes to enhance the health and wellness of children through knowledge of food trends and new ideas that will benefit the district.

While Haugen is excited to speak with students throughout the district about food and nutrition, she’s also looking forward to having the same schedule as her children.

Haugen will start with the school district in early August, and her last day at Hy-Vee is July 9. Although she is excited for the new position, she will now only be able to lead the first two One-Step Garden classes. Haugen hopes a new dietitian will be hired and able to lead the children’s garden by the time she leaves, but the company is still actively searching for a replacement.

Hy-Vee manager Todd Hepler is sad to see Haugen leave, but he’s also excited for her.

“I think [the move] is a positive attribute for her because she is one of those people who wants to go out and continue to help people,” Hepler said. “This is a good way for her to reach out to the people in the school system, but also to make sure she has time at home with her children.”

Hepler worked with Haugen for the last five years, and Haugen was the first dietitian to work at the store. Hepler said she really made a difference by working with employees on health assessments, making sure the store promoted a “dietitian pick” every week, implementing programs like One-Step Garden, and playing an intricate part with moving the store into the 21st Century.

Though they will miss Haugen, Helper said the store will have a new dietitian to pick up where she left off, and the store may be looking into potential future partnerships with the school district.

“Jen’s a real modest person and I don’t know if people know all the things [she’s done] and awards she’s won, the list she’s been able to accomplish is just absolutely amazing,” Hepler said. “[If] one person can make such a huge impact that’s Jen.”


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