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Grocery store dietician serving up everything from cooking classes to advice

By Chris Lewis | Vol. 32 No. 25 (Sept. 4, 2019)

Those looking to live a healthier lifestyle may want to check out Sobeys in Paradise or Long Pond for help.

Both locations are offering customers a chance to learn from their staff dietician when it comes to preparing meals, especially for folks with specific dietary restrictions or choices.

Susan Duggan is working from both locations giving classes and providing customers helpful advice when it comes to managing tricky diets, or simply trying to follow healthier ones.

Duggan said the classes are geared towards people living with diabetes, celiac disease, heart conditions and other illnesses. “Like, cooking for better blood sugars, or cooking for lowering your blood pressure,” she explained.

“It’s kind of a service where a customer can come in if they’re looking for recipes, or if they’ve got a health condition. They can come do a class, get the information they need, and take that home with them.”

Duggan also offers special classes that she referred to as ‘taste and learns.’

“You come in, we’ll pick three recipes, and we’ll show you how to do it,” Duggan said. “You get to sample it, and get the recipes to go.”

The classes are free of charge.

Duggan said she is also available to provide lunch-and-learn classes for groups of people, such as from a workplace.

The program started with Duggan’s supervisor, a former private dietitian on Prince Edward Island who would do ‘label tours’ in Sobeys locations with her clients, where she would help them properly read the sometimes daunting labels on foods.

This caught the attention of store managers who decided that it would be a good addition to the list of services offered by Sobeys.

“There are 30 (registered dietitians with Sobey’s) now across Canada. We’re in all of Atlantic Canada, and we’ve managed to cover a lot of ground,” Duggan said.

The reception to the classes has been overwhelmingly positive, Duggan said, describing them as something of a ‘best-kept secret.’

“You’ve got to shop in the store. You might wonder ‘Who’s that girl in the black jacket? What does she do?’ and once people start coming and asking questions, it all just continues on from those initial interactions,” said Duggan. “New people come, and then so do community partnerships so, I must say, it’s been very positive thus far.”

The program sees an average of 12 people per class. Duggan runs as many as four classes a week, and has no problem filling them up.

As specific diets become more commonplace, through either choice or necessity, these types of programs come in the clutch to help people prioritize their food choices, all while staying within the boundaries of their particular diet, Duggan said.

“Plant-based eating is humungous nowadays, and so is the Mediterranean diet. But, the thing is, it usually stops there. People want to do it, but just don’t know how, so I think we’re kind of bridging that gap with these taste-and-learns, and the other programs,” she said. “We’ll show you three ways to use Greek yogurt, or three ways to do beans. Sometimes people want to know how to properly use different oils for their Mediterranean meals. So, I think we’re just really helping people figure things out that way.”

Duggan said it’s also becoming more common to see people coming to the classes hoping to learn more about living a gluten-free life, or a lifestyle that reflects certain dietary choices.

In fact, people come to her on a daily basis about specific dietary restrictions.

“You’ve got everything from the Keto diet to fasting diets. We see everything here, and I think, even in the last five years, people are really taking it on themselves to find new ways to eat,” Duggan said. “They’re not just eating everything, they want to find a diet that fits them and their lifestyle. People see us in the store, and they’ve really been taking advantage of what we offer. I really think we’re helping them with those choices.”

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