Samantha Zajac, MS, RDN, CDN
Samantha recently won the award for Registered Young Dietitian of the Year at the 2023 Spring Meeting. .
What inspired you to become a RDN?
My inspiration for being a registered dietitian sparked with my love of food and cooking. I pursued culinary in my high school trade school and found a passion for food, cooking, and learning through culinary application. After high school, I went on to earn a postsecondary Bachelor of Science degree in Culinary Nutrition and Clinical Dietetics from Johnson and Wales University in Providence Rhode Island where we brought culinary application and nutritional sciences together both in and out of the classrooms. Being able to learn, understand and educate others on the importance of nutrition to help people understand the way food and nutrition impacts the body and overall health inspired me to join the wide and diverse field of dietetics.
Where do you work now and where have you worked in the past?
Currently I work as the District Dietitian for Sodexo’s Campus Segment for Connecticut Campuses. I first began in my role over 2 years ago as the Campus Registered Dietitian for the University of New Haven as a recent graduate from their dietetic internship. My diligence and advocation for food allergy safety as well as implementation of nutrition, health & wellness initiatives at the University of New Haven led to the integration of my role into the nearby campuses within CT where I assist teams in allergen safety and compliance in addition to bringing nutrition & wellness initiatives to campuses. Prior to this role I worked for ConnectiCare insurance as a Dietitian Intern for the summer of 2019 as well as gained experience working in my current field when I was a Culinary Nutrition Performance Intern for Auburn University with their division one athletics department and Aramark Higher Education.
What is your favorite recipe/food?
My favorite recipe to make is grilled bruschetta chicken with asparagus and risotto! The different seasonings, mozzarella cheese, bruschetta and balsamic glaze make it a dish with deep flavor and refreshing, perfect for summer
How is food related to your culture?
As someone of Irish and Polish heritage food is very prevalent around the holidays and family gatherings. It was always important to have the staples of corned beef and cabbage with potatoes and carrots or an old-fashioned Ruben during the St Patrick’s celebration. For all other family holidays or get togethers we would always have kielbasa and perogies from the local polish market. When I was younger, I realized that meals and food brought family together and fostered conversation not only about food but also about the people around us,
What is your #1 tip for improving one’s diet?
To keep it simple. There are a lot of misconceptions out there that you need to do “this” before you can truly start, or not eating a food or food group because it is “bad.” When I collaborate with clients, we put simple back on the table and focus on real foods first by helping them break down their habits and tendencies with food and nutrition. Being able to discuss barriers they have had prior or diet misconceptions in a way that educates them on the science behind food and nutrition and the way our bodies react and use energy. In a way that helps empowers clients to choose the foods that are right for them, without eliminating any food items or food groups.
What is one item that is always in your pantry?
Chicken stock! Whether its chicken stock I made on a Sunday and canned for storage or store bought. It is a fantastic way to add flavor to any dish when cooking rice, grains or even to make quick sauces. Along with elevating the flavor to the dish, it can add some extra protein.
What is your go -to exercise routine?
I love to go on walks, runs, or hikes with my two dogs! It is a wonderful way to get outside when the weather is nice out and get my body moving!
If stranded on island-what one food or beverage you would want an unlimited supply of?
I would bring a peanut butter and jelly sandwich! This staple food is not only easy to make but has all the essential nutrients of protein, carbohydrates, and fats, to survive when stranded on an island. I could survive for a long time eating only PB&J’s.
What is the best part of your job?
The most fulfilling part of my job is being able to work with students in a multitude of ways. I get to help students and their families navigate coming to college & navigating the dining halls with food allergies or special diets. Educating and working with students on how to advocate for themselves within dining halls but also, when dining out with friends who may be unfamiliar with their allergies. Helping students break through nutrition misinformation and re-write their nutrition knowledge by hosting tabling events, presentations, and individual counseling sessions. Leading students on
a journey from having a lack of sufficient nutrition or poor relationship with food or body and working together to gently guide them to more neutral or positive ground, with coping skills they can refer to. Ultimately, highlighting and emphasizing the food within the dining halls and connecting with students on how important proper nutrition is for our overall health, well-being, and school studies.
Where do you want to see the RDN/NDTR profession in 10 years?
The profession of nutrition & dietetics is vastly growing, I cannot wait to see how we evolve the profession, education of RD2BE’s and the creation of more professional roles. I would love to see that everyone has access to the services of a registered dietitian within all population age groups, especially within school settings. This is a vital time in children and young adult lives that requires proper access to food and nutrition. Along with this, children and young adults should be educated or have the resources available to them to understand the importance of proper nutrition to help foster a more inclusive and body positivity school environment for all.
Anything else you would like to add?
Not at this time.