By Valerie Henderson, MS, RD, LD
With a lifelong goal of promoting wellness and an active lifestyle, one Texas dietitian has made her mark on the world around her.
Paula Cantu, RD, LD began her career as the outpatient dietitian for the US Reynolds Army Community Hospital, where she developed and coordinated a highly successful weight loss and exercise program for all overweight soldiers assigned to Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Lessons from that experience sparked a passion for nutrition and wellness that shaped her private and professional life.
Seventeen years later, as the Director of Nutrition Services at Arlington Memorial Hospital, Paula still strives to make healthy lifestyles a reality for not only the patients who come to her hospital, but also for employees throughout the hospital. For example, when hospital administration recently required a price hike on the cafeteria food, Paula saw an opportunity to encourage healthy eating. “People often complain that eating healthy is too expensive, and that has always bothered me,” she says. Thus, she accomplished the price hike by maintaining current pricing on healthy foods, such as yogurt, fresh fruits and vegetables, while raising prices on less healthful foods, such as fried foods and desserts.
As a foodservice director, Paula’s everyday responsibilities include managing over 80 employees, developing and monitoring a budget of over $4.3 million, and overseeing the production and service of 3000+ meals per day. But there are always other opportunities to make a difference. For example, Paula also serves as a key committee member and was instrumental in launching “Be Healthy THR,” an employee wellness program aimed specifically at reducing obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease among employees and their families.
Although she is busy at work, she still manages to serve her profession as well as the public by teaching nutrition classes at a community college and volunteering in multiple organizations, including the Tarrant Area Food Bank and the Arlington Life Shelter. She is the current Past-President of the Fort Worth Dietetic Association and has served the Texas Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as both the State and the Federal Legislative and Public Policy Chairs. “I feel like it is part of our duty as citizens to give back to the community, especially being in the healthcare field,” Paula says.
From the early days of directing a weight loss program for Army soldiers to directing Nutrition Services at a 380 Bed Acute Care Hospital, Paula has maintained her focus on improving the lives of people through nutrition, wellness, and an active lifestyle.