Health & Wellness: Creating a Successful Nutrition Program–An Update

June 18, 2024
Dana Harrison stresses the importance of soliciting input from members and consistency of effort in initiatives to improve firefighter health.

Eight years ago, I wrote “Making Effective Changes to a Firehouse’s Nutrition Program” to demonstrate how to make nutrition a priority. What’s below provides continued support for those who are interested in improving the nutrition environment of a firehouse.

I wrote the aforementioned article early in my career as a nutritionist who works with firefighters. My goal was to give the fire community a starting point for increasing nutrition awareness to improve firefighter health. Years passed, experience improved and insight was gained, so I share what worked and what didn’t, in an effort to have positive effects on firefighter health through nutrition initiatives.

Where we left off
To recap: Making effective changes in a firehouse entails assessing a department’s needs, creating nutrition initiatives, and monitoring and evaluating the programs that are implemented. Each department has its differences from and similarities to other departments. The same goes for each group or shift. Just as there’s no one-size-fits-all formula for nutrition, there’s no one-size-fits-all nutrition program.

Although resources and materials must be geared toward the firefighter lifestyle, they also must be relevant and of interest to firefighters. Bringing in an outside nutrition professional is helpful, but it must be done in an approachable way, to meet firefighters where they are, and it must focus on potential improvements that are realistic and feasible.

If an outside source is unavailable, begin by focusing on the firehouse kitchen, because firefighter health truly starts in the kitchen.

Small steps add up, particularly when it comes to nutrition. Keeping nutrition at the forefront of firefighters’ health involves incorporating positive changes and, often, some trial and error. However, it’s with consistency—and not an all-or-nothing or one-and-done approach—that I see positive nutrition and nutrition-related health results over time.

Apply knowledge via practice
The most important piece of increasing buy-in from firefighters is to make the information and training relevant and of interest. One way to ensure this is by gaining anonymous feedback via extremely brief surveys. Honesty is at the forefront.

To share insight here, I refer to the Newton, MA, Fire Department’s 2024 nutrition program and feedback as an example. I started with an interactive lecture that covered nutrition basics. Afterward, members remarked that the lecture was “clear and concise,” “involved participation,” “showcased real-life examples,” “was nonjudgmental” and “didn’t push a specific way of eating.” Most importantly, capping lectures at 45 minutes and avoiding “death by PowerPoint” are crucial for firefighters to retain helpful information and to influence positive change.

Asking the simple question of “What topics would you like to learn more about?” is where the differences of interests between groups really stand out. Answers included, “learning more about added sugar,” “intermittent fasting,” “the carnivore diet” and “eating more plants.” This allowed me to tailor nutrition education resources, presentations and cooking workshops. In other words, start with the basics on a large scale for the entire department and then fine-tune information to smaller groups, which eventually can narrow down to individual focuses.

For a successful nutrition program, firefighters must want to act on the knowledge that’s gained and then apply said knowledge. It’s consistency (multiple initiatives or meetings per year), building rapport (learning and improving goals through trust) and application (cooking firefighter-approved recipes) that contribute to the most success.

Nutrition changes within the fire service won’t happen overnight. They take time. Find what works for you and your department and continue to build on it, focusing on consistency. You’ll have the ability to improve firefighter health on a micro and macro level, now and past retirement.

About the Author

Dana Harrison

Dana Harrison, MS, is a nutritionist and educator who is based in Massachusetts. She received a bachelor’s degree in biology from Vassar College and a master’s degree in nutrition science (community nutrition concentration) from University of Massachusetts Amherst. Harrison is the founder of The Cultural Shift Method, which is a nutrition education program that makes nutrition, health and wellness easy, individualized and attainable. She presents simple, realistic, sustainable and dynamic plans for positive health and wellness behaviors, which allow for changes to occur on a cultural level. For more information, visit or contact her at [email protected].

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