Growing up on a farm, Tonya Johnson learned early on the importance of growing and preserving food — and how those practices can lead to a healthier lifestyle. As a registered and licensed dietician with a master of science from the University of Central Arkansas and a doctorate from University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Johnson brings her passion for nutrition to her role as the director of nutrition and food services at UAMS.
Johnson oversees nine retail outlets where she changes menus and cooking methods to create healthier options. She also oversees a team of clinical dietitians and a milk lab that provides medical nutrition therapy to patients. Johnson has also implemented room service options for patients at UAMS and a menu inspired by the Mediterranean diet.
“We implemented room service for patients last year,” she said. “This has proven to reduce food waste. These changes have made me a better health care provider by allowing me to reach a lot of people and impact their nutritional health.”
Johnson not only seeks to provide those in her care with healthy food options, she has also started teaching people how to prepare foods using hands-on methods. She has incorporated grocery store tours to teach people how to shop healthy on a budget and has led the effort to have more healthy options in all of the UAMS retail areas on campus.
Reducing food waste is another issue that Johnson has tackled head-on. She’s implemented strategies to make frozen, ready-to-eat meals from leftovers in UAMS’ retail areas for patient food service to distribute in the food pantry. The UAMS campus has also increased its locally sourced food to over 20% of all food purchases.
Another service implemented under Johnson’s time as director was the opening of the Stocked & Reddie Food Pantry for food insecure employees and students at UAMS. Instead of traditional canned goods, Johnson wanted the food pantry to have a focus on fresh produce and grab-and-go meals that change daily.
After opening the food pantry, Johnson received an email from a nurse manager about an employee who had an attendance problem. When the nurse manager spoke with the employee, she discovered that the employee had been choosing between buying food for her family or gas for her car to come to work.
“She informed me that after we opened the food pantry the employee’s attendance had dramatically improved because she was no longer worried about choosing between food and gas,” Johnson said. “We had really made a difference in this person's life. This story made all the hard work and long hours worth it.”