Begin building your teaching skills by working as a camp counselor, tutor, or other type of volunteer or part-time educator. Another way to develop and practice your teaching skills is to research a nutrition-related topic and present information about the topic to your family and consumer science class, health club, or your family. Ask your audience to rate both the quality of the presentation and the information that you provided, and use this constructive criticism to improve your teaching abilities.
Read the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior’s blog, https://www.sneb.org/blog, to learn more about issues in nutrition.
Learn as much as you can about nutrition by watching food shows and documentaries, reading books about nutrition, visiting the Web sites of professional nutrition associations, and checking out Nutrition.gov, a U.S. Department of Agriculture–sponsored Web site that offers advice on healthy eating choices.
Talk to community nutrition educators about their careers. Perhaps you could even shadow them to learn what a typical day on the job is like.
Work responsibilities for community nutrition educators vary by one’s employer, job title, and education level, but most educators perform duties in the following areas:
Community Needs Assessments. The nutrition educator visits a community that has been identified as being underserved to learn about the diet- and wellness-related needs of its population, assess community culture and values that might influence attitudes and knowledge about nutrition, and identify potential local partners (religious organizations, local nonprofits, etc.) that could be of assistance. Then they create a nutrition/wellness plan to match these needs. For example, the community may have a large number of young, unmarried mothers with newborns who do not have access to proper nutrition for their babies. The educator would set up one-on-one and group presentations with the young women in order to educate them about nutrition and further assess their needs. They would then connect them to the USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children program and other programs that will help them to receive better nutrition and other services.
Publication and Presentation Development. Nutrition educators conduct research in order to write nutrition education publications, short scripts for YouTube videos, and “talking points” or instructions for workshops, cooking classes, and other types of oral presentations.
Hands-On Teaching. Educators provide information and instruction on nutrition, cooking, food safety, and other topics in test kitchens, classrooms, and in community gardens. They also lead virtual nutrition workshops and provide other types of education via Zoom, Facebook Live, and other online communication platforms.
Assessment and Counseling. Nutrition educators meet with clients at community health facilities or in their homes to learn about their nutritional needs, overall health, socioeconomic or cultural factors that are barriers to them receiving proper nutrition, and obtain other information (including taking anthropometric and hemoglobin measurements) in order to assess the client, develop a plan for improved nutrition and overall wellness, and link them to private and public nutrition and wellness programs. They provide counseling to the client regarding weight management, blood cholesterol reduction, eating disorders, and other topics. They refer clients to other medical and social service professionals, if warranted. For example, they would refer a client who has mentioned having recent mental health issues to a mental health counselor.
Site Visits. Educators travel to facilities where private or public nutrition programs are offered (such as the site of a daily senior meal program) to ensure that food quality and safety and sanitation standards are being met. If they identify problems, the educator works with service providers to remedy them, and also writes a report that summarizes the compliance issues and what was done to address them. At a later date, the educator returns to the facility to make sure that the changes have been implemented.
Assessment of Outreach Programs. During their work, educators gather data and anecdotal information (including feedback from clients), and work with other public health professionals to determine the effectiveness of existing nutrition educational programs and other outreach efforts. They strive to improve existing programs and develop new ones that are even more effective or that address emerging community needs.