Staff Spotlight: Director of Nutrition - Alyssa De La Peña

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There is so much thought that goes into planning Gourmet Gorilla’s seasonal menus. From making sure our food represents a variety of different cultural backgrounds, to sourcing only clean label ingredients, there are many things to consider when deciding what makes in on our menu. Luckily, we have a Director of Nutrition that makes this process seem like a breeze! Meet Alyssa De La Peña, the master of all things nutrition at Gourmet Gorilla. This week, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Alyssa to learn more about her and the work she does at Gourmet Gorilla.

Q: Let’s start by clearing one very important thing up...what is the difference between a Dietitian and a Nutritionist?

While the term Registered Dietitian (RD) or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and Nutritionist are often times used interchangeably they have very different meanings. All RD’s are Nutritionists but not all Nutritionists are RD’s. The term Nutritionist is not regulated, so technically, anyone can call themselves a Nutritionist without any formal training. A Dietitian is someone that has a minimum of a four year college degree from an accredited university, has undergone 1,200 hours of supervised practice, passed a national board exam, and completes a minimum of 15 hours of continuing education each year. 

Q: What drew you to school nutrition?

A few things drew me to school nutrition, the main reason being my passion to help others. Throughout my course work in undergrad and grad school I loved learning about nutrition science and then being able to share that information with clients. Food plays such a large role in every single person's life, so to be able to educate people on the importance of nutrition and how food works in their body is one of the best parts about my job! Also, I cannot think of a better way to make a big impact than teaching young children important facts about nutrition that they will be able to implement and benefit from their entire lives. 

Q: What do you think is working well and what do you think could change when it comes to school nutrition requirements?

When it comes to school nutrition requirements, I think the National School Lunch Program does an excellent job in emphasizing the importance of fruits and vegetables. Did you know that only 1 in 10 American’s get enough fruits and vegetables each day?! Depending on age, the USDA recommends anywhere from 5 - 10 servings of fruits and veggies per day.

An area for improvement in school nutrition would be food waste. Offer vs. Serve is designed to cut back on food waste and I think it is a great first step! However, there is still leftover food that gets discarded each day. I think it would be great if we could come up with a way to rescue the leftovers and give it to those who need additional meals while still operating within the NSLP rules and regulations.

Q: Give us a snapshot of a week in your shoes at Gourmet Gorilla?

One of the best things about Gourmet Gorilla is that no two days are alike! A week in my shoes typically involves team meetings focused around the menu, assisting parents and administration with questions related to nutrition, testing recipes, and managing our ordering site.  

Q: What is your favorite item on the fall menu

My favorite item on the fall menu is the Mexican Lasagna. I am a vegetarian and love all Mexican food so this dish is the perfect fit! It contains beans, cheese, salsa, and tortillas…. What’s not to love! 

Q: Tell us more about you! What do you like to do outside of work?

Outside of work I love to spend time with my boyfriend, Josh and our two cats Lupita and Javier. In addition to spending time with my little family, I enjoy working out and spending as much time outside as I can while we still have some nice Chicago weather. I also love to cook - Buffalo Cauliflower is an all time favorite for me!

Alyssa was kind enough to share her Buffalo Cauliflower recipe - check it out below!

Buffalo Cauliflower

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Ingredients:

1 large head of cauliflower

½ cup Frank’s RedHot Sauce

2 tbsp melted butter

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp lemon juice

½ tsp garlic powder

1 tsp salt

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper

  2. Cut cauliflower into florets and place in large mixing bowl

  3. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together hot sauce, melted butter, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic powder, and salt.

  4. Pour the sauce over the cauliflower florets 

  5. Spread the cauliflower in a single layer over lined baking sheet and bake 25 - 30 minutes or until cauliflower is fork tender and browned around the edges.