Best Job Ever: Taco Bell Dietitian
Most people haven’t realized that we have an in-house dietitian that oversees the entire Taco Bell menu. Missy Schaaphok is one of our registered dietitians and has played a big role in not only making our food craveable, but better for you, too. She led the development of our Power Menu, helped certify a collection of our ingredients as vegan and vegetarian, and reduced sodium across our menu.
We caught up with Missy to learn more about how she created her own role at Taco Bell and why she has one of the Best Jobs Ever.
Question: What is a dietitian and what does a typical work day at Taco Bell look like for you?
Missy Schaaphok: A Registered Dietitian/Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RD/RDN) is a food and nutrition expert with the appropriate credentials mandated by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. More on those credentials here.
There is no typical day when you’re a dietitian at Taco Bell and that’s something I love about working here. One day I could be playing around in the kitchen on the latest menu innovation and the next I could be building out a five-year road map for nutrition strategy. I’m involved in state and local activity on nutrition-related priorities like trans-fat ban, menu labeling for restaurants, sodium reduction initiatives, and size restrictions for sugar sweetened beverages. More recently, my involvement has been related to broader national initiatives like providing comments to the FDA regarding the Draft Sodium Reduction Guidance, and the new definition of the term “natural.” I get to work closely with our food innovation team to create food with incredible taste, as well as food people feel good about eating. My team and I have done extensive development work over the past few years to provide customers with ingredients that are easy to understand and responsibly sourced. We regularly consult with nutrition experts working in the food industry, public health, and policy and regulation to help identify areas of opportunity for our ingredients, menu and overall nutrition strategy.
Q: What did you study in school?
MS: Originally, I wanted to become a veterinarian, but after I started pre-vet school in Texas I realized that I loved food more. So, I moved back to California and transferred to San Diego State University, where I completed the didactic program in dietetics (DPD) and received a Bachelor of Science in Food Science and Nutrition. From there, I completed a dietetic internship through the University of Delaware and passed the national exam to become an official dietitian!
Q: How did you come into your role at Taco Bell?
MS: At first, Taco Bell only hired me to do product development. However, I realized that my credentials could be put to good use and championed for my role to lead nutrition. I had no idea what that meant or what I was really asking for, but I’m glad I went for it. Shortly after, I became Taco Bell’s first dietitian, all of which has been a remarkable and humbling learning opportunity.
Q: Can you talk to us more about how Taco Bell keeps its menu balanced with nutrition in mind?
MS: Taco Bell will always be known for providing the boldest and freshest flavors, and food that’s customizable to fit our customers’ lifestyle. Whether they are looking for options that are vegetarian, made without gluten, high-protein, lower calorie/lower fat, in the mood for something indulgent, or all of the above - Taco Bell has food for all. We believe transparency is key and want to provide the information so that customers can make informed decisions. We were one of the first quick service restaurants to post full nutrition information online, and now we’re making it even easier to understand what’s in our food. Our nutrition calculator allows for menu customization to meet any dietary needs. We believe everyone deserves good food – food that fits their lifestyle, ingredients that are simple to understand and quality they can feel good about eating.
Q: What have you been working on lately at Taco Bell?
MS: Most recently, I led the development of the Power Menu, a menu featuring high-protein bowls and burritos 510 calories or less. Our team has also been the driving force behind the brand’s commitment to simplify its ingredients by removing additives and preservatives, artificial flavors and colors, high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oil and unsustainable palm oil in our food. In addition, we’re also reducing sodium across the menu.
Q: What is the most challenging part of your job?
MS: Bridging the gap between consumer, investor, government and non-government organization demands with what is authentic to Taco Bell. For instance, government direction came last year when the FDA released its Voluntary Draft Sodium Reduction Guidance for the food industry. However, since 2008, Taco Bell has already reduced sodium by 15% on average across the menu and has since expanded that commitment to 25% by 2025. The challenge is people say they want to avoid sodium, but they don’t want their food to be bland. While we will continue to slowly remove sodium from our food, we’re also working to manage consumer preference and ingredient functionality while delivering great tasting food.
Q: What’s next at Taco Bell that we can expect from you and the team?
MS: This year alone, we’ve already met some amazing accomplishments – we eliminated the 40oz (XL) beverage from our line-up and transitioned to serving chicken raised without antibiotics important to human medicine in our U.S. restaurants. Next year, we’re expanding our cage-free egg commitment to all egg ingredients. You can always expect the unexpected when it comes to our food and that we will never compromise on flavor.
Q: Out of all the things you’ve accomplished at Taco Bell, what are you most proud of?
MS: My proudest accomplishment is our partnership with the American Vegetarian Association (AVA) to certify our ingredients as vegan and vegetarian. It took almost two years to complete the preparation work and proper marketing to make this happen, and we celebrated in style on World Vegetarian Day and through Vegetarian Awareness Month. This menu is important because it satisfies a lifestyle need of our consumers. They love that we have vegetarian options. Now we’re making it easier for them to feel good about vegetarian choices at Taco Bell. I’m very proud that we have two plant-based proteins (black and pinto beans) on our menu that can be customized into any Taco Bell order, which have beneficial nutrients, protein and fiber, making it a nutritious selection.
Q: Why is your job the best job ever?
MS: The thing I constantly remind myself is small changes do make a big impact. When I work on projects like sodium or calorie reduction, I know that I am working to impact millions of people who eat our food everyday. For Taco Bell, a 15% reduction in sodium equates to 1.5MM lbs of salt removed each year. And, there is no better place to make change than from within. RDNs working at food companies are the internal advocates to drive change and have a crucial role in improving public health.
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