Heather Peracchio

Heather Peracchio Recognized for Community Contributions

man and woman with an award
Heather Peracchio receiving her 40 Under 40 award from P.J. Prunty, President of the Danbury Chamber of Commerce.

UConn Extension professionals work in communities throughout the state, to apply the university’s research in practical settings and help improve lives. Heather Peracchio, an Extension professional based in Fairfield County, exemplifies these attributes for her work in community nutrition.

Peracchio, a registered dietitian and certified dietitian-nutritionist, joined UConn Extension in 2012, after receiving her Master of Science from the UConn Department of Allied Health Sciences and serving four years as an assistant extension educator with them. This summer, she was recognized as a 40 Under 40 award recipient for Fairfield County.

Fairfield County 40 Under 40 Honorees are diverse, passionate, and committed difference makers that are transforming the county through their professional and community contributions. In a typical year, the nomination pool exceeds 250 submissions making the 40 Under 40 Awards one of the premier recognition opportunities in the region. Following a rigorous review and selection process, all Honorees are chosen by a judging panel of past 40 Under 40 winners, community leaders, and program hosts and sponsors, based on professional and community achievements.

What is often forgotten by those who have healthy nutrition and access to foods that make them feel energized and satiated, is how hard it is to go about daily tasks, especially work responsibilities, while feeling hungry. Nutrition plays a vital role as it provides the energy needed for life. However, when individuals lack the knowledge of its significance or the means to access nutritious food, their focus shifts from thriving in various aspects of life, including work, to merely surviving. Peracchio is giving people a chance to fuel their bodies in a way that will allow them the energy and fulfillment to go above and beyond. When participants are supported by a nutritious diet, companies will flourish with new and bright ideas.

With Extension, Peracchio is the supervisor of the county Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) and the UConn Extension Center Coordinator for Fairfield County. Her accomplishments are many, improving the quality of life for those who reside in Fairfield County. She has designed and delivered educational programs that provide nutrition education to low-income families. Peracchio also works as the SNAP-Ed Food Security – Program Educator, and has since April 2012, engaging local and state partners such as schools, community centers, farms, senior centers, and food banks by providing nutrition presentations and series using science-based curriculum. These include Families Eating Smart and Moving More; Choosing Health: Food, Fun and Fitness; Teen Cuisine; Eat Smart Live Strong; Seniors Eating Well.

Peracchio works collaboratively with community partners to seek funding and create timely and relevant programming. Examples include a partnership with the Danbury Farmers Market Community Collaborative where she secured $13,000 in Covid-19 resiliency funding to provide local produce boxes and nutrition education to urban families who had limited access to the farmers’ market. Another partnership with the Walnut Hill Church yielded $16,000 for her efforts through Share Our Strength Food Insecurity grant reaching families with children aged 0-5 to provide food and cooking skills.

As the EFNEP supervisor, Peracchio supervises and works with the program assistant and EFNEP program aide. Together they plan, organize and implement series of nutrition education classes for diverse youth and adult audiences throughout Fairfield County. Her collaborative projects including incorporating EFNEP education within the Growing Gardens Growing Health project in Norwalk, 4-H Teen Urban Gardening Project in Bridgeport and the 4-H Soccer and Nutrition program in Danbury. With the assistance of the interns, she supervises from UConn Extension and Nuvance Hospital Dietetic Internship (Norwalk and Danbury hospitals), an impact has been made on the health and nutrition in Fairfield County communities.

“Heather is one of those leaders who leads by example, she does not just tell people what to do, she is right there with them. She creates a highly collaborative environment where all get to contribute. She inspires those on the team to always look for more ways provide the education a training that helps grow people. Like the food she helps to get into the hands of the needy, she also brings a spirit to those she works with that encourages them to grow themselves,” said Scott Farrell, a community partner and assistant director of admissions at Naugatuck Valley Community College.

Peracchio creates shared goals that help inspire and motivate those in need to live their best life. She always creates a positive and inclusive work environment where all get to contribute and grow as individuals. Through her leadership she established partnerships with 60 preschool centers, 30 public schools and 25 food pantries. Peracchio knows how to bring the proverbial village, in this case Fairfield County, together to support its residents while feeding both their body and mind.

“I believe that what sets Heather apart from others is her compassion and willingness to help,” Farrell continued. “She is always supporting those around her, be it her work family, to those moms in her mom group or others in the community, to her own family where she is a living example to her three kids of what it means to care and make a difference. She just does not say things are important, she gets involved with the organization that can impact the people she serves.”

Her service to the community includes the Connecticut Food Policy Council, Danbury Farmers’ Market Community Collaborative, Norwalk Food Providers, Danbury Food Collaborative, Connecticut Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics board of directors, and many others.

As they say, actions speak louder than words and Peracchio is always on the go and ready to make things happen. Learn more about the UConn EFNEP program and the resources available statewide at efnep.uconn.edu.

Author: Combined Reports

CT Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Member Spotlight: Heather Peracchio MS, RDN, CD-N

Heather Peracchio MS, RDN, CD-N

Heather at Daily Bread

Do you have a current/past  position with the CT AND Board?

I have been many positions on the CT AND board but currently I am the Food Security and Sustainability Co-Chair.


What inspired you to become a RDN?

My first year at UConn I found the course ‘The Science of Food’ fascinating and was inspired to take more classes in Nutritional Sciences. I have had an interest in food and cooking from a young age. In fact, my mom taught after school cooking programs for elementary age students and I was her assistant. 


Where do you work now and where have you worked in the past? 

I currently work as an Assistant Extension Educator at the University of Connecticut based out of the Fairfield County Extension office.  I have been faculty at UConn since 2008, first working in the Department of Allied Health Sciences as a community nutrition preceptor (2008-2012) and then transferred to my current role and office in Bethel, CT (2012-current) as my husband and I settled in nearby Brookfield and started our family.  I also worked part-time as an outpatient dietitian at Community Health Center, Inc. covering Danbury, Norwalk and Stamford locations 2012-2018. 


What is your favorite recipe/food?

I could never pick just one! I love cooking and have many favorites. I especially enjoy sharing recipes with friends and clients that are delicious, nutritious and easy to prepare.


How is food related to your culture?

My parents and grandparents valued food and its origin.  My grandparents on my fathers side were farmers and very much connected to the land. My grandfather grew up on a dairy farm, Quinnequack Farm in Northeast Connecticut and my grandmother as the daughter of a dairy owner, Arrow Lakes Dairy in Cranston, RI. My grandparents on my mothers side were avid gardeners and wonderful cooks. Growing up my parents and grandparents shared many stories and recipes that had been passed down to them.


General tip for improving diet?

Make half your plate fruits and veggies! I am always sure to share this simple tip in presentations as it can easily shift one’s diet in a more healthful direction. 


If stranded on island-what one food or beverage you would want an unlimited supply of?



What is the best part of your job?

I love my job because each day is different. At times I am working on research projects or writing grants, other times I am connecting with community partners such as emergency food sites or I might be in the field giving presentations or attending health fairs. No two days look alike.


How has Covid-19 changed the way that you do your job?

The majority of my work has shifted to telecommuting, spending much of my day in virtual meetings or chatting with colleagues on Microsoft teams. My nutrition presentations and class series have transitioned to a virtual format. Also all data collection tools that were traditionally pen and paper have been transitioned to online survey formats.  It is certainly different but I am still doing what I love.

Where do you want to see the RDN/NDTR profession in 10 years?

I would love to see RDNs working more in primary care.  In my role at CHC I saw the value and appreciation for RDNs in primary care and enjoyed working as part of an interdisciplinary team.  I hope that model of care expands and RDNs work more in primary care clinics as well as alongside pharmacists in community pharmacies.  Pharmacies are quickly becoming the go-to resource for primary care and will become more important as vaccination efforts increase. I feel this could be a great place for multidisciplinary work and a great way for RDNs to connect with patients. 

Original Post