Brenda Richardson: Serving the Aging Population through Food and Nutrition

Brenda Richardson


For 32 years, Brenda Richardson, MA, RDN, LD, FAND, has provided nutrition services to a diverse group of people age 50 and older. But her journey began in college when she took a nutrition course that ignited her passion to become a registered dietitian nutritionist.

Lenna Frances Cooper

Born in 1875, Cooper was a nurse by training who, under the tutelage of Dr. John Harvey Kellogg and his wife Ella Eaton Kellogg at the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan, became a staunch advocate for health care through diet and a pioneer in the field of vegetarian nutrition. Cooper’s first book, The New Cookery (Good Health Publishing Co. 1913), featured a then-novel concept of nutritionally balanced, wholesomely prepared, attractive and palatable vegetarian recipes for good health. She became the first director and dean of the school of home economics and the head dietitian at the Battle Creek Sanitarium, from which more than 500 dietitians graduated during her tenure. At the Sanitarium, Cooper oversaw the development of all the medical nutrition therapy menus for patients which were entirely vegetarian.

Co-founder of the American Dietetic Association in 1917, Cooper pioneered the profession as a charter member of the American Home Economics Association, first president of the Michigan Dietetic Association and first U.S. Army dietitian. She served on the staff of the U.S. Surgeon General and created the department of dietetics at the National Institutes of Health. Cooper’s leadership in the field of nutrition and dietetics has touched millions and cemented her legacy within the profession. Annually, the Academy honors her by giving the Lenna Frances Cooper Memorial Lecture award to a dedicated member, inspiring speaker and a role model who has made significant contributions to the profession.

After earning an undergraduate degree in dietetics and institution administration from Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Ky., Richardson was selected for an internship at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Later, she served as the RDN at several military acute-care facilities and then became the hospital chief of clinical dietetics at Ft. Campbell, Ky.

Richardson left active duty to work as the coordinator of food procurement and nutrition education for the Jefferson County School System in Louisville. “Working with schools, the foodservice staff and children was such a wonderful opportunity,” she recalls.

In 1987, Richardson was offered a role serving a different population in long-term care. “While I enjoyed working in acute care and schools, I gravitated toward working as a consultant to skilled nursing facilities,” she says. “I loved seeing the actual impact food, nutrition and dining has in prevention and management of malnutrition and in overall quality of life for each resident.”

Richardson not only is a consultant for independent living, assisted living and nursing facilities, but also works with food manufacturers and distributors on product development of dietary supplements for the aging population.

Additionally, Richardson volunteers with organizations including the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, American Healthcare Association, Pioneer Network and Leading Age, providing education and training to their members and collaborating on regulatory reviews.

“I love working with my colleagues in demonstrating the value of nutrition for healthy aging,” she says. “It is so rewarding to see improvements in person-centered care, prevention and management of malnutrition and other chronic diseases, and the positive impact nutrition has in the daily lives of individuals.”

In 2019, after being nominated by the Dietetics in Health Care Communities dietetic practice group and Indiana Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Richardson received the Lenna Frances Cooper Memorial Lecture Award. “This is such a prestigious honor in that it represents Cooper’s legacy and her leadership in the field of nutrition and dietetics,” she says. “Her legacy has enabled me to practice in the profession through evidence-based nutrition to improve lives. I am honored and humbled.”

Lauren Fox
Lauren Fox is the managing editor of Food & Nutrition Magazine and senior manager of creative media at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.