An Interview with School Dietitian Alexis Beltran

Alexis Beltran received her BS in Foods and Nutrition from San Diego State University in 2014. In 2015, she completed a distance dietetic internship through Utah State University, where she later returned for a master’s in Dietetics Administration. Alexis currently works as a Registered Dietitian for the Chula Vista Elementary School District, the largest K-6 school district in California, where she serves a diverse population of nearly 30,000 students. I spoke with Alexis about the unique challenges and opportunities of a career in school nutrition.

Have you always been interested in foods and nutrition? What inspired you to consider a career in this field?

I wasn’t always interested in foods and nutrition. I always knew I wanted to do something in the health/medical field but never really considered nutrition until I took my first nutrition class at a community college. At the time, I was taking prerequisite classes for a nursing program and the nutrition class was one of the required classes. I ended up enjoying nutrition a lot more and decided to go that route. I realized I wanted to help people prevent illnesses by educating them how to eat healthier and feed their body properly instead of having to help them after they were sick. I chose to work in child nutrition because it gave me the opportunity to educate children early and introduce them to different fruit and vegetables they might not get at home. My passion is feeding students in need and feeding them the most nutritious meals I can within a budget.

After you got your degree, you completed a distance dietetic internship through Utah State University. What led you to consider a distance internship?

The idea of doing a distance internship appealed to me because it seemed to be more independent, I could choose exactly where I wanted to do my rotations, and I wasn’t completely ready to leave the San Diego area yet. I wanted to stay in San Diego and hopefully get a job here so I wanted to build a network and different connections in the area. I definitely would recommend a distance internship to other nutrition students who want to be independent during their internship and those that are well organized and have good time management. I think it’s really important for students to know what kind of student they are when choosing an internship and what they want out of it.

Dietetic internships are competitive, with a national match rate of around 50%. What are some of the things you did as a student to make yourself a strong candidate?

My main focus was always getting good grades. Also, volunteering at a variety of different places made me a strong candidate because it showed that I was well rounded. Along with good grades and volunteering, I worked while going to school in food service jobs so that counted towards experience as well. It’s also very important to spend time on writing your resume and personal statement because that is going to be the internship’s first impression of yourself. I spent a lot of time on my personal statement and resume. I took my personal statement to the English department at SDSU to have it proofread and I took my resume to career services where someone was able to look over it and help me make improvements.

Once you started your internship, did you feel well prepared? Was there anything that surprised you?

I believe that my education at SDSU did prepare me very well for my internship. One thing that was very new to me was all of the different aspects of school food service. I wasn’t really sure what to expect and I didn’t know any of the rules and regulations, so that was probably the most surprising thing for me. Obviously, since I’m now working in school food service, that ended up being my favorite rotation and it all came very easily to me. I think my previous work background in food service really helped me as well.

What’s a typical workday like for you?

To be honest, I don’t have a typical workday. Every single day is different depending on what’s going on and what part of the school year it is. Usually, my day starts with checking emails, phone calls, and any office work that needs to be done, like entering new student food allergies/intolerances, working on menus, production records, and marketing stuff. Midday, I do my best to go out to watch and help with lunch service at different school sites. I try and go to different school sites two to three times per week depending on how busy I am in the office. Other days are filled with vendor meetings or any other operation issues that end up happening.

How many hours do you work in a typical week?

I work 40 hours a week and I usually don’t have to do overtime. Depending on meetings, I will work longer some days, but my job is flexible enough that I can just come in later or leave earlier the next day.

What times of year are the busiest?

The start and end of the school year. The start of the school year is definitely a little bit crazier because we are dealing with getting meal applications in and processed, meetings, getting new products from the vendors, and dealing with any other issues that come up. I sometimes have to work overtime during the start of the school year, but not very much.

So you said that your schedule is pretty flexible. Could you expand on that a little bit?

My job is very flexible. I have the option of coming in earlier or later. For example, I choose to come in at 7:00 am and get off at 3:30 pm but I can come in as early as 6:00 am. It’s just important for me to be in the office no later than 7:30 am because we start serving breakfast at 7:00 am at school sites and I need to be in the office to answer any phone calls from kitchen leads. Also, our daily frozen and dry goods delivery leaves the warehouse — where my office is — around 7:00 am, so I like to be here to make sure there aren’t any problems and to make sure the delivery drivers are sending out everything they should be.

What do you like best about your job?

Every day is different, which makes things exciting and sometimes challenging. I also really enjoy teaching the students about nutrition and going out to different school sites to see what the kids say about the menu. It’s really important to me to get their input.

Is there anything about your job that you find stressful?

I would probably say just dealing with vendors and getting products in on time. It makes it really difficult when we get shorted product or product doesn’t come in on time. Then, I have to deal with vendors and distributors on how I’m going to get the product in and sent out to all school sites. I really don’t like to substitute things on our menu unless it’s really necessary. I want students to be able to come to the cafeteria and see what they expect on the menu.

You’re going back to school for a master’s degree in Dietetic Administration. How do you see your career evolving in the coming years?

My goal is to eventually be a child nutrition director at a school district. In order to get there, I need to learn more of the operational side of the business, as well as the financial side. I’m hoping the MDA program will give me more knowledge of management and the skills to be a successful leader so that I can bring all that knowledge to the workplace.

Do you ever work with interns or volunteers?

I do have opportunities for interns and preceptors. I welcome them anytime! I really enjoy taking nutrition students out to our promotional events like A-Z Salad Bars, BBQs, and Farmers Markets. That way they can see how the students and parents are involved. Also, I welcome students to come shadow me for the day whenever they like.

Do you have any words of advice for a nutrition student who is still figuring out his or her career path?

My suggestion is to volunteer, intern, and shadow at as many places as you can. Take every opportunity to network and meet people in the field. You never know when you will run into them again, and the dietetics field is still very small, so at some point you probably will! Don’t be shy and just get out there! Also, don’t ever turn down an opportunity that comes your way, even if you don’t think it’s meant for you, because you never know. I never thought I would end up working as a food service dietitian, and I absolutely ended up loving it! I can’t see myself working anywhere else.

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