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From the Classroom to the Customer



When Timothy Williams presents his customers at Whole Foods Market healthy vegetable-based smoothies to drink, they are often a little intimidated by the drink’s greenish color.

Except when those customers are children, that is.

“The little kids will take it and down it,” Williams says of the smoothies. “And the parents are looking at them, and looking at me, and I say, ‘Why don’t you try it? They know it’s good.’”
Shoppers browse produce at a typical Whole Foods location. Photo courtesy Whole Foods Market.

A former teacher, Williams works as a healthy eating specialist at the Lake Grove, N.Y., Whole Foods market, offering customers classes and cooking lessons on eating healthy. He also runs the market’s “Health Starts Here” program, part of the chain’s global nutrition initiative to help people eat healthier. 

And although Williams now spends most of his days in the supermarket aisle rather than at a chalkboard, he continues to work with local students to show them the benefits of eating healthy. 

Williams regularly offers nutrition lessons at local schools, similar to the work he does with his customers in the market. Along with providing students with lessons on what foods are good for them, Williams teaches them about things such as food labels, showing them that not everything that is advertised as good for them actually is.

“So many people are falling victim to slick advertising campaigns. They think they are feeding themselves healthy food, but in reality they aren’t,” Williams says, pointing specifically to sports drinks. “You can’t drink a drink or eat a meal and be a strong powerhouse or look phenomenal. You have to put the work into it.”

A former family consumer sciences teacher, Williams left education out of frustration that repeated budget cuts had left his program without the funds needed to properly teach students. “It got harder and harder to really work with kids and teach healthier meals when you didn’t have the ingredients to make those meals,” Williams says.

But Williams sees his role at Whole Foods as continuing to teach, just in a different way. He now even teaches the teachers, who often are given outdated lesson plans that might not meet the latest nutritional recommendations.

“A lot has changed in that area,” Williams says. “I’m just trying to do some re-education when I’m going into the schools.”

Williams also works as a forager for Whole Foods, meaning he seeks out local food and beverage businesses that could possibly sell their products in the store. Twice a month, the store holds a farmer’s market featuring the potential businesses, and the companies that do well are invited to sell their products in the market.

It all goes hand-in-hand with Williams’s goal of showing students and their families how good nutrition can lead to a healthy, happy life.

“It’s preventative maintenance for their bodies,” Williams says. “People understand that when we talk about cars, but not about their bodies.”