Nutritionist discussing meal plan with patient.

A Conversation With a Nutritionist

“I get the pleasure of teaching our healthy lifestyle program that teaches Veterans how to better manage their weight and health and how to cook so they can achieve some of their lifestyle goals.” – Brenda Greer, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, North Texas VA Health Care System

We all know healthy eating is an important part of our health and wellness, but it often feels like it’s one of the hardest parts to manage. Maybe you work long hours and feel like you don’t have enough time to make home-cooked meals. Maybe you’re newly divorced and never really learned how to cook. Maybe it feels too expensive to eat healthy, or after a long day, you crave unhealthy options instead.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) understands both how important and how difficult it can be to make and eat meals that are good for our health and wellness. That’s why VA offers several resources to help Veterans and their families with everything from meal planning and recipe ideas to actual cooking skills you can use in the kitchen.

Brenda Greer is a Registered Dietician Nutritionist (RDN) within VA’s health care system. She shares her knowledge and skills with Veterans to help them learn about nutrition, develop healthy eating habits and try new cooking skills to improve their quality of life. Her extensive background and expertise in the field of nutrition make her a great person to help us understand the importance of healthy eating and the resources VA offers to help us do it.VA Dietitian Brenda Greer.

Meet Brenda

Brenda Greer has worked for VA for more than 35 years and currently works for the North Texas VA Health Care System.

While working in restaurants to pay her way through school, she always believed she’d become a nurse or a teacher, but then found a career that combined all her passions into one.

“I decided to pursue a career in dietetics as it combined my interest in education, health care and food service,” Brenda said.

Brenda completed her dietetic internship at the St. Louis VA Medical Center and took her first job at a VA hospital in Chillicothe, Ohio. She hasn’t looked back since, completing her master’s degree in food service administration at the Ohio State University along the way.

Brenda currently serves as the North Texas coordinator of VA’s MOVE! Healthy Teaching Kitchen Programs.

“I get the pleasure of teaching our healthy lifestyle program that teaches Veterans how to better manage their weight and health, and how to cook so they can achieve some of their lifestyle goals,” she said.

The Benefits of Working With a Registered Dietitian NutritionistNutritionist weighing male patient.

One of VA’s nutrition-related resources provides Veterans with access to RDNs like Brenda. An RDN is a food and nutrition expert with special training who works as part of a health care team to promote healthy lifestyle choices and create personal nutrition plans for individuals of all ages.

Brenda sees Veterans for all different reasons. She says many Veterans are interested in learning about lifestyle choices that will help them feel better and manage their weight, diabetes or high blood pressure. Others come in for much different reasons – worried about malnutrition and unplanned weight loss. She explained the personalized approach Veterans receive when working with an RDN.

“The RDN will get to know the habits and concerns of the Veteran,” she said. “From there, they will offer a Whole Health approach to empower the Veteran to identify their own goals and make informed lifestyle choices to achieve those goals.”

Brenda also shared that the RDN is able to separate facts from fads and give you evidence-based nutrition information that you can use.

VA Resources for Nutrition-Related Goals

In addition to RDN access, VA has many other resources designed to help Veterans achieve a better quality of life through nutrition. Whether you want to eat smarter to lose the extra weight you’re carrying or to better control your diabetes and high blood pressure, or you need to gain weight and increase your strength, Brenda and other VA RDN’s across the country can help you get started.

Cookbooks and recipesWoman learning to make healthy food.

Even when you’re ready to commit to healthy eating, it can be hard to know where to start. What can I make for a healthy breakfast? What is an easy dinner I can try? VA has entire cookbooks available for download and tons of recipes to help.

“We have a cookbook collection and several recipes categorized by recipe type so it’s easy to find recipes that are not only delicious but also easy and relatively affordable to prepare,” Brenda explained.

This Slow Cooker Chicken Fajitas recipe from VA is a healthy option full of veggies, chicken and beans that only takes 10 minutes to prep.

Information geared toward health issues

As Brenda explained, many Veterans are looking for ways to eat and cook to help manage a particular health condition, such as diabetes or heart disease. “VA’s nutrition site is great for learning how your food choices can impact a number of health conditions,” she said.

Search under the heading “Nutrition and Health Topics” to find information and handouts related to conditions such as cancer, diabetes, kidney disease and more.

This Banana Oatmeal Protein Pancakes recipe use bananas, oats and eggs and are great for people looking to add more fiber and protein to their diet.

Cooking classes

VA’s Healthy Teaching Kitchen Program offers Veterans nutrition knowledge, cooking skills and guided practice so you can cook at home and create healthy dishes on your own. Depending on location, cooking classes may be in person or online. Classes provide simple, quick and tasty recipes and many even offer disease-specific options such as heart-friendly meals, carbohydrate-controlled recipes for diabetes, and more.

Brenda shares that several VA locations are now offering “Cook as I cook classes” where a Veteran can set up a cell phone or laptop that allows a teacher to watch you cook while you watch the teacher cook.

“At the end of class, we have good conversations and everyone that participates has something delicious to serve their family,” she shared.

If you’re ready to get started on your own, VA’s Healthy Teaching Kitchen has a YouTube channel with more than 100 cooking videos. Set up your smartphone and try something new, like this healthy Yogurt Bark recipe to help you deal with a craving for sweets or this Chicken Vegetable Stir-Fry recipe for a delicious home-cooked meal.

Food insecurityMan getting food assistance.

Like many Americans, some Veterans may be experiencing food insecurity, struggling to provide adequate nutrition for themselves and their families while paying for other necessities at the same time. VA’s Food Security Office connects Veterans with resources to access nutritious and affordable food.

MOVE! Program

VA’s MOVE! Program is an evidence-based weight management program that assists Veterans in achieving meaningful weight loss to improve their health and reduce their risk for chronic health conditions. Brenda has seen positive results in her work with the MOVE! Program, recalling a Veteran who had a lot of success.

“He lost weight, which resulted in being able to decrease the amount of medication he took for pain and diabetes,” she explained.

Brenda’s Quick Tips

With decades of experience in the field of nutrition, Brenda has a lot of wisdom to share – and tips on making healthy eating easier, more affordable and better for our environment.

She started by reminding everyone that we don’t have to be perfect; we just have to start. For example, she said, “A rotisserie chicken can be a great starting place in creating budget-friendly and healthy meals with frozen or canned veggies and other pantry basics your family will like.”

Try this Baked Enchilada Casserole recipe and simplify it by using rotisserie chicken as a base.

Brenda also encourages everyone to cook more at home. “That helps you save money and eat a variety of food that will assure good health,” she explained.

Lastly, Brenda shares a good tip for our pocketbooks and our earth.

“Filling up a reusable water bottle instead of buying bottled water will help you save money, in addition to being an earth-friendly choice,” she said.

A Success Story

Brenda has celebrated success with many of Veterans she’s seen – making the work deeply meaningful and gratifying.

She recently worked with a Veteran interested in learning to cook so he could prepare a meal for his wife who worked full-time outside of the home. They had gotten into the habit of eating out nightly and his past attempts in the kitchen hadn’t gone well.

“His wife banished him from the kitchen because he had ruined the cookware,” she shared. Then the Veteran participated in a virtual “cook along” class for a number of weeks.

“His wife enjoyed his home-cooked meals, they both lost weight and were saving money towards a down payment on a house,” Brenda said.

This story highlights many of the benefits of healthy eating that go beyond just health goals, such as saving money and making better connections with our family members. “This was a good reminder that what we do for the Veteran impacts everyone in the home,” Brenda explained.

Reach out to your health care team and start working with someone as passionate as Brenda about getting you started on your journey to healthy eating.

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