URI Nutrition Club spreading the word about healthy eating

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KINGSTON, R.I. – March 25, 2008 – With obesity nearly at epidemic proportions in the U.S. and video games turning children into couch potatoes, the University of Rhode Island’s Nutrition Club is taking an active role in creating visibility for those working as nutritionists while educating students and the public about the importance of a balanced diet.

“My mom was a nutritionist, so I’ve grown up with her drilling into me the importance of eating green vegetables and drinking your milk and how a good diet can help you be a better athlete,” said club member Stephanie Perruzza, a junior from South Salem, N.Y. “This year the Nutrition Club is trying to do more and more to get that same message through to the rest of the community.”

The club will focus its message on URI students on April 1 with a series of fun activities and educational displays in Hope Dining Hall. Emphasizing the importance of eating whole grains, the club will offer an interactive quiz to determine if students are “carbo-phobic,” offer information about appropriate portion sizes, and display exhibits about the food guide pyramid. They also will establish a nutrition question box in the dining hall, and club members and registered dieticians will answer select questions on the website of URI Dining Services.

On Saturday, April 12, the Nutrition Club will serve as volunteers at the annual 5-kilometer “Nutrition Fuels Fitness” road race at Goddard Park, Warwick, sponsored by the Rhode Island Dietetic Association. Organized in large part by the URI Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences, the run/walk event raises funds to support the Dietetic Association’s nutrition education programs.

“It’s the volunteer activity that everyone in the Nutrition Club looks forward to all year,” said Alexandra Oppenheimer, a junior from Larchmont, N.Y. and the club’s secretary. “We recruit volunteers, check in the runners, distribute shirts and cheer on the participants. It’s a great time for everyone.”

One of the Nutrition Club’s most important roles is to provide members with opportunities to learn about career opportunities in the nutrition field. For instance, 16 members of the club went to the International Restaurant and Foodservice Show in New York City on March 9 to learn about the food service industry. To qualify to go on the trip, students were required to donate at least 10 cans of food to the Rhode Island Community Food Bank. In total, the club contributed 240 pounds of food.

“The Foodservice Show was an amazing experience,” said Chester, Mass. resident Abigail Salvini. “Vendors displayed all sorts of products, from food and cooking equipment to pest control services, all targeted to restaurant owners and other food service companies. And the food samples we tasted were great – chicken wings, pizza, olives, olive oils, ice cream, gelato and even a bagel that comes pre-stuffed with ham and cheese. Half way through the day we couldn’t eat any more.”

“For those of us thinking about a career in food service, it was pretty cool to see all the equipment that goes into setting up a restaurant,” added Oppenheimer. “They had immersion blenders that were the size of jackhammers!”

The University of Rhode Island has nearly 200 undergraduate students majoring in nutrition and dietetics — including Perruzza, Oppenheimer and Salvini – and many more who take nutrition classes as electives. Career choices for graduates of the program include working in a hospital or other clinical setting; planning meals and managing food service at universities, hospitals and other large institutions; working for federally-funded nutrition programs like Food Stamps or WIC; and advising private clients with particular dietary needs, especially those with a recently diagnosed medical condition.

When asked about her career goals, Perruzza said she might become a community dietician or work in a hospital setting. “Then again,” she added with a grin, “maybe I’ll go to culinary school and have my own show on the Food Network.”

Pictured above

URI Nutrition Club members (l-r) Abigail Salvini, Stephanie Perruzza and Alexandra Oppenheimer dice vegetables in the URI Food Lab. URI Department of Communications & Marketing photo by Michael Salerno Photography.