RD Close-Up: Leigh Healey, RD, LD, LMNT, Hy-Vee Registered Dietitian
Please describe your role at Hy-Vee.
My role is to be the nutrition expert in our grocery store and make customers' lives easier, healthier and happier. I love having the whole grocery store as my classroom to teach customers hands-on about healthy eating. I also help in other departments when they need, which I enjoy as it mixes up my day-to-day tasks. For example, I help deliver flowers on Valentine’s Day and help in the kitchen with Veterans Day breakfast. I get to be a part of the store in every way possible, which is so fun!
What's the story behind your experience in retail and how you came to work at Hy-Vee?
I never had experience in retail before coming to Hy-Vee but I always thought that Hy-Vee Dietitians had such a fun job because they get first look into so many new and healthy food products that come into the stores. After trying clinical work as a dietitian, I realized working in a hospital doing the same things day in and day out wasn't for me and I preferred more of the outpatient setting where each day is totally different. While shadowing a Hy-Vee dietitian during my internship, I experienced all the community and in-store events they do along with offering outpatient nutrition services. It helped me realize this job would be a good fit for me.
What has been the biggest challenge for you as a dietitian working in the retail industry?
In general, working in retail can be challenging but also a lot of fun. This job is totally what you make of it. Having creativity and excitement to plan classes, events, team up with other departments, work closely with community businesses, etc. can make this job fun and keep you very busy, but can also be a challenge when first starting the job. My first couple months were full of planning events that I thought sounded great but wasn't sure if people were going to like. I didn't know how to promote myself, but learned it just takes time. You can't be scared to fail otherwise you will never know what works. Taking the time to get to know your co-workers and customers is important in making your job a success. I've learned you really need to have an open mind to doing new things, putting yourself out there and make the most of any situation to succeed in the retail industry.
What is one thing you wish you had known before starting your career in retail?
I wish I would have known more about the grocery business in general and all the business terms. My mind definitely is more science and math-based so during the first couple manager meetings I attended, I had no idea what they were talking about. It has been fun learning all the new terms and all the working parts to a grocery business. I learn new things about the retail world every day!
Has there been anything specific that has held you back?
I am at a Hy-Vee store that has a lot of customers on EBT/food stamps so there are customers that need or want my help but can't afford it. Luckily at Hy-Vee, we offer free nutrition walks around the store which is a service many customers will schedule to discuss healthier food options in the aisles, read food labels and pair foods together to build healthy meals and snacks. This helps get customers started in the right direction with their nutrition; they can always come get more individualized help later on.
What has helped you move forward in your role?
I think the main thing that helped me move forward in my career as a retail dietitian is customer service, which is important not only for your store's overall success but for the success of your events and how customer's view you and your store. Always being willing to help customers find a product in the aisles or just smiling and saying “hi” to everyone I pass makes me more approachable so they can ask me for help along their health and wellness journey. I have some of the same customers that come to all my events every month and that will stop by my office or come find me every time they are here shopping. It pushes me to continue offering these services and know that my job is positively impacting them.
Is there a program or initiative of which you are most proud?
When I first joined Hy-Vee, I started offering monthly kids’ cooking classes at my store. Initially, I only had 4-6 kids per class but now it has grown to 20-30 kids per class. These classes are offered to the public and are geared for kids ages 6-13 at a cost of $10 per kid. Recipes vary each month as I like to make them themed for holidays, back-to-school, around the world, breakfasts, or healthy snacking, for example. I enjoy teaching kids’ cooking classes as it helps them learn about food, how to properly use cooking utensils, be creative and even make some healthier alternatives in recipes.
Leigh graduated with a B.S. degree in dietetics from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and completed her my dietetic internship at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Upon completion, she moved back to my hometown of Omaha, Nebraska where she worked in an eating disorder clinic for two years before coming to Hy-Vee. She has been working as a Hy-Vee Dietitian at the West Broadway store in Council Bluffs, Iowa for over two years. You can find her monthly event calendar on Hy-Vee.com by searching the West Broadway store in Council Bluffs.