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Inside Scoop From “Mickey’s Dietician” on How Equestrians Can Improve Their Nutrition

Filed under: Featured,Health & Training |     

By: Brittany Bevis

Talk about the most interesting job you never knew existed! AQHA amateur competitor, Erin Shapiro Boatwright, is a Registered Dietician for Disneyland Resort in California. (She’s basically the head nutritionist for Mickey Mouse, in our opinion….)

In addition to having the opportunity to walk through the pearly gates of Cinderella’s castle on a daily basis, Erin’s job description varies each day. “Every day is different, which is one thing I love!” she says. “My title is Registered Dietitian, and I work on a number of nutrition programs and initiatives for the employees or ‘Cast Members’ who work here. I don’t have much involvement with the food in the guest-facing restaurants, but we do have some efforts that overlap, so we work together to gain consistency. It’s been really interesting learning so much about the backstage life.”

Becoming a Registered Dietician (RD) is a second career for Erin, but one she admits she probably should’ve chosen the first time around, as she loves to help people. After facing some of her own health issues, and an autoimmune disease that was onset by an unhealthy lifestyle, she realized how important it was to focus on health, wellness, and proper nutrition. “In addition, showing horses competitively required a lot of me physically, which was especially hard with my autoimmune disease, unless I took care of myself and fueled up properly. I knew there had to be so many others out there whose health could also be improved through better nutrition.”

So exactly how did she come to work at Disneyland? It’s a story that has to do with Coca-Cola, her hubby’s new job, and a bit of Disney magic. “I knew pretty early on that I wanted to incorporate wellness and one-on-one coaching into my job,” she says. “As a graduate student, I worked at Georgia State University’s Recreation Center doing counseling with undergraduate students. Since I’ve become a RD, I’ve served as a Corporate Wellness dietitian at The Coca Cola Company, as well as at Disneyland Resort. It’s been very rewarding working in corporate settings and helping employers take care of the people who work for them.”

When Erin lived in Atlanta, GA, she had the opportunity to work as a RD in the fitness center at The Coca-Cola Company’s corporate office. She was contracted to the position by Optum, a company that helps to staff a variety wellness positions for top level corporations.” After her husband’s job brought the family to Newport Beach, California, Erin was looking for a new opportunity. Thankfully, Optum has contracts all over the country and found a position at Disneyland Resort.

How important is nutrition at Disneyland? In Erin’s opinion, it helps to keep the magic alive. “There’s so much that goes into keeping the magic alive!” she says. “At the end of the day, if the Cast Members aren’t safe and healthy, they can’t help to bring magic to the park guests. It’s amazing to know I play a really small part in that magic.”

“Last year, we launched a program to bring healthier food options to cast cafes and vending machines. Again, if the Cast Members aren’t fueled properly, they can’t perform to their best. I lead this program and coordinate with our dining partners to ensure program guidelines are being met. In addition, we provide a large amount of nutrition information to Cast Members throughout the year. I’m part of the team that creates and distributes the content, whether it be fliers, presentations, recipe challenges, and more. It’s really fun to have a hand in seeing a large project from start to finish, all while helping Cast Members live a healthier life.”

While Erin doesn’t make any of the food herself, she does work with Disneyland’s dining partners to modify recipes to make them healthier. “We have guidelines that a recipe must meet,” she says. “When it doesn’t, there have been times we’ve met in a kitchen to play around with the ingredients to lower the salt or fat. Those have been my favorite experiences; not to mention taste-testing is always a part of the experience!”

So does she strictly work with princes and princesses, or is her nutritional expertise portioned out to every member of Disneyland? “We have an interesting mix of Cast Members. We have everything, including office executives, custodial, hotel staff, parade performers, ride staff, and maintenance. As you can imagine, the activity level and physical demands vary greatly between these groups. We do target some of our recommendations based on the area a Cast Member works in; but, in general, a balanced diet can apply to everyone. I encourage my clients to keep it simple; start with an easy change and get really good at that.”

“Many of my clients start in a similar place. I encourage them to think that half the plate should be vegetables with a quarter being protein and a quarter grains. Fruit can come into play during breakfast and snacks. Snacks can be a carbohydrate and protein or fat, but never just a carbohydrate alone. There is a lot of nutrition information out there today, and it’s really difficult to sort through it all. Nutrition is not one size fits all, and what works for your friend, relative, or coworker may not work for you. This is one of the reasons I became a RD, to help provide individualized nutrition advice for my clients using sustainable methods that have been supported by science. I try to steer from the trendy diets unless there’s a medical or lifestyle reason they should be followed.”

Within Erin’s own personal kitchen, she has a variety of easy, go-to recipes that can be modified for busy equestrians. She also prefers to prep her lunches for every day of the week for the convenience and cost savings aspect as well. “Right now, I’m a huge fan of burrito bowls or buffalo chicken in the crock pot that’s served over some spinach and sweet potato. My snacks aren’t complicated: apple and peanut butter, veggies and hummus, berries and cheese, low-fat Greek yogurt, trail mix, turkey and cheese roll-up. These are very easy foods that don’t take much preparation.”

When Erin is on the road traveling to horse shows, she typically relies on only two sources for her food. “If it’s a larger city, I track down a company that prepares food and will deliver to my hotel. I typically do this at the Congress, and it’s been a lifesaver. If the show is in a more remote area, I will go to the grocery store and pick up food that I can put together easily, such as rotisserie chicken and bagged salad; prepared salad with chicken and fruit; individual peanut butter cups, trail mix, and protein bars.”

“The beginning of the show can often be busy, so I’ve even had my groceries delivered directly to the hotel on the first night of the event. I’m a huge proponent of someone else doing the grocery shopping for me. It’s a time saver and ensures that I stick to the list. When it comes to buying precut vegetables or having groceries delivered, within reason, I encourage my clients to invest in whatever shortcuts will help them be more successful on their journey.”

Erin would love to see a larger emphasis on wellness within the equestrian community. After all, our craft is dependent upon the fitness level of our bodies. It’s even more important heading into the hot, summer, horse shows to ensure that you’re healthy and fit. It’s work that starts now.

“Prioritizing your nutrition takes work. It’s a skill that must be developed and worked into your lifestyle. Planning ahead is probably the most important key to success. In the horse industry, especially, there are challenges, because everyone is on the road so much. I’d love to see a larger emphasis on wellness in the horse industry. We perform based upon how well we’re fueling and preparing our bodies. Many of the top chronic diseases can be prevented and treated by a healthy lifestyle. Imagine if we were as dedicated to our own health as we are to that of our horses!”

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