Hy-Vee and the Blue Zones: a natural fit

Published 10:49 am Tuesday, May 19, 2015


Dietician’s Digest by Rachel Breneman

Hy-Vee has built into its culture a focus on health and wellness, culinary expertise and, of course, customer service. To this end, the partnership between Hy-Vee and the Blue Zones Project is a natural fit. The idea behind the Blue Zones Project is to nudge people in the direction of making sustainable and healthy choices by creating an environment in which these choices are easy to make. With an organic produce section, the HealthMarket and plenty of fresh items low in sodium and sugar, Hy-Vee provides customers many options consistent with Blue Zones principles.

Rachel Breneman

Rachel Breneman

Email newsletter signup

As a Hy-Vee dietitian, my job is to help customers navigate the aisles with confidence. One of my favorite aspects of this job is hearing feedback from customers who have implemented these “nudges” into their lives, resulting in weight loss, more energy and improved focus. The Blue Zones Project is also about relationships, both with family and in social circles. Preparing and enjoying meals together provides an opportunity to learn about new foods, to enhance skills in the kitchen and to connect for both kids and adults. This can translate into lifelong skills that encourage healthy behavior and increase longevity — the ultimate goal of the Blue Zones Project.

Albert Lea’s Hy-Vee is unique in that this store created the grocery store blueprint for the Blue Zones Project in 2009 during the city’s pilot project. Many of the original ideas remain in place and now form the basis for the current pledge items a store must meet to complete designation. These include having a Blue Zones checkout lane, calling out healthy alternatives to sweetened beverages and utilizing signs throughout the store to identify foods eaten in various Blue Zones areas throughout the world. All the information is helpful, but if you don’t know how to prepare these foods, you won’t likely purchase them.

That’s where education comes into play. I help customers learn how to choose, store and prepare these foods with classes, demonstrations and lunch presentations. The goal is to explore foods, make cooking fun and reduce the stress that can come with meal planning and preparation.

In addition to the grocery store designation, Albert Lea’s Hy-Vee is also a designated Blue Zones restaurant. Each Friday, a Blue Zones entree, which must be plant-based to meet guidelines, is offered for lunch and dinner. The kitchen also has daily breakfast items and a kid’s meal option, with fresh fruit available daily as a side or dessert. To-go boxes are available upon request to encourage eating only to 80 percent fullness, which is a core concept in the Blue Zones areas of the world.

It doesn’t take much to start moving in the direction of healthy behaviors, but it does take some awareness of what you are already doing and where you’d like to go. A few “nudges” can truly add up when it comes to your health and lead to improved quality of life.

Rachel Breneman is the Hy-Vee dietitian and a nutrition expert promoting healthy eating throughout the community. She is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.