Megan Boitano

Megan Boitano

Registered dietitian nutritionist Megan Boitano, MS, RD, helps dietitians leverage their expertise and generate income via creation and sale of online nutrition resources. She is the founder of Well Resourced Dietitian, a digital marketplace for dietitians to both sell and buy original, digital materials for use in their nutrition practices, including ebooks, handouts, presentations, webinars, worksheets and more.

17 Money-Saving CEU Hacks for Dietitians

In the dietitian world, sometimes the only thing more elusive than finding the perfect avocado is tracking down affordable CEUs. Not to worry! With these money-saving CEU hacks, you’ll find out exactly how to navigate professional development in a way that works for you (and your wallet).

Let’s dive into 17 ways to save, starting with the most important…

*Note: This is intended to be for informational purposes, and should not substitute your own due diligence with understanding CEU requirements. CEU requirements can change at any time, so you should always verify information directly with your certifying body. 

1. Find out your exact CEU requirements!

This sounds simple, but it is the number one tip to save you time, money, and hassle. If you procrastinate, you might be left rushing at the end of a cycle to take a bunch of courses – or worse, accidentally miss the deadline and suffer from hefty fees or even being forced to retake the exam.

Our recommendation? Keep a one-page document or notes app on your phone handy with the following:

  • List of credentials and certifications
  • Length of continuing education cycle for each (for example, 5 years, 2 years, etc.)
  • End date of your current continuous education cycle (pop these into your digital calendar too, along with a reminder 3 months in advance, so you don’t forget!)
  • Number of CEUs required for each credential/certification
  • Any notes on specific types or exclusions for CEUs

At a minimum, you’ll have your RD credential through CDR. To maintain your credential, you must complete 75 CEUs every 5 years, one of which must be ethics-related. It’s essential to know when your 5-year cycle starts and ends (which does not go by calendar year, but rather is May 31st of the last year in your cycle). You can find this information when you login to the CDR website. You’ll also want to track the CEUs you complete each year to monitor progress towards the total of 75.

A screenshot of the CDR portal displaying the dates of a dietitian’s recertification cycle when they need to earn CEUs.

You may also have additional certifications or state licensure too. These often call for a different number of CEUs, different cycle lengths, or even specific types of CEUs.

For example, Massachusetts licensure currently requires 30 CEUs every 2 years, and only allows CEUs specific to nutrition science. They do not allow CEUs for sessions on business or marketing (unlike CDR, which counts these because they apply to performance indicators). It’s wise to check your state licensure and other certification requirements to avoid any  surprises.

“The CE planner is a fun way to stay on top of your learning goals for the year ahead. I am really excited to use the book tracker, the mind map, and the learning activity pages! Everything you need is right there, and I love the freedom to personalize these pages to reflect my style and keep me inspired. Thank you! “

Julia Zakrzewski, RD, CEO & Founder Freelance Dietitian

2. Take advantage of free CEUs.

Many brands and professional organizations offer limited free CEUs for dietitians. You can look at our free CEU article to find a list of 40 different options, from general nutrition to clinical topics to pediatrics. Take as many free options as you can that are relevant to your role (or simply interesting to you), and then supplement the rest of your CEUs with the other money-saving tricks here.

3. Start your own journal club. 

Whether you’re in the clinical setting or you want to connect with a few of your dietitian pals via Zoom, any RD can start a journal club (Activity Type 160). The guidelines from CDR include:

  • The journal club must be preplanned.
  • You must have group participation that includes three or more professionals.
  • The club must have live in-depth discussion of a single dietetics-related topic from a peer-reviewed journal article that is less than five years old. (Journal article should be decided on and read before the club meeting).

Each hour of journal club counts for 1 CEU, and there’s no maximum on what you can earn over your 5-year cycle. You should keep a certificate of completion or agenda/timing outline and the provider information in the event of an audit. If you’re organizing it yourself, take the initiative to create these for the other RDs attending.

The organizer of the journal club should take the initiative to create these or if you’re participating in one, be sure that you have in case of audit.

These days, you can find many free journal articles for your club available on PubMed by searching for a topic and filtering by “free full text” for articles published over the last few years. If you’re an Academy member, you’d also have access to their journal articles too.

A screenshot of a search for nutrition articles on PubMed with date and full text filters highlighted.

4. Or just read journal articles on your own. 

CDR also offers CEUs for “professional reading” (Activity 200) for journal articles. If you don’t want to participate in a journal club, you could simply read articles on your own and count that time. One article is equivalent to 0.5 CEU. Note that this activity type does have a max CEU limit of 15 per 5-year cycle for RDs (unlike journal club which is unlimited).

Keep in mind you can’t “double dip” – your time spent reading one article for a journal club CEU can’t apply to professional reading too. But you could count a journal club article under the journal club activity, and separately read a different article to count under professional reading.

5. Attend free or low-cost live events. 

Did you know that live events like in-person seminars (Activity Type 170) and live webinars (Activity Type 171) do not require CDR prior approval? If you’re attending a conference that doesn’t specify CEU credits for dietitians, that doesn’t mean that it won’t count towards a CEU. You just need to make sure that it meets these guidelines:

there is also no maximum allowed amount so these could count for all 75. I’m thinking Grand Rounds could be a great option for many RDs in hospital settings. however that would be activity type 110.

Included grand rounds and case presentations separately a bit further down since it seemed a little different than a lecture/webinar.

  • Content must be dietetics related. Note that “dietetics related” can apply to any of the essential practice competencies, which include topics like communication, marketing, business, etc.
  • The activity must be live and include participation by or discussion among attendees (not pre-recorded).
  • The activity must be at least one contact hour in length.
  • Any session addressing diet and nutrition related topics must include a CDR credentialed RD or DTR in program planning.
  • As of 2023, diet and nutrition related is defined as “topics focused on the science of food, nutrients, and other substances intended for intake or infusion; the action, interaction, and balance of food, nutrients, and other substances in relation to health and disease; and the processes by which food, nutrients, and other substances are ingested, absorbed, transported, utilized, and excreted.”
  • However, per CDR, the above rule does not apply to academic coursework, or CEU activities offered by “American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS), American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), American Psychiatric Association (APA), and American Public Health Association (APHA), Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education [ACCME], Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education [ACPE], American Nurses Credentialing Center [ANCC], American Academy of Physician Assistants [AAPA], Association of Social Work Boards [ASWB], American Dental Association’s Continuing Education Recognition Program [ADA CERP], American Psychological Association [APA], Board of Certification for the Athletic Trainer [BOC], and Association of Regulatory Boards of Optometry’s Council on Optometric Practitioner Education [ARBO/COPE]).”

Here are some hypothetical examples to help make sense of the rules:

  • You go to a fitness conference and there is an RD leading a one-hour session about sports nutrition. This should be eligible for CEU credits, as it is nutrition-related and led by an RD.
  • You own a private practice. You go to a free business conference in your area, and there is a one-hour session about marketing. This should be eligible for CEU credits, as it’s a live session and the information is applicable to marketing your nutrition services. It does not need to be led by an RD because it does not address diet and nutrition related topics.
  • You go to a local women’s business meeting. A holistic health coach gives a one-hour presentation about nutrition for women. This would not be eligible for CEUs, because even though it is live, the presentation is focused on diet/nutrition and was not given or planned with an RD.
  • You attend an hour-long presentation by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) about pediatric nutrition, presented by a doctor. This should be eligible for CEUs, because even though it was not planned or given by an RD, it is offered by an organization on the exclusion list from that requirement.   

However, it’s always best to contact CDR to get input on any particular scenario and verify that the live event will count.

6. Don’t forget about other live activities. 

Case presentations and grand rounds that cover dietetics-related topics also count for CEUs (Activity Type 110). If you’re in a clinical or long-term care setting, you should be able to check off at least a few of these throughout the year. Be sure to keep documentation in the event of an audit, like an agenda, timing outline, or certificate of completion.

If the live activity doesn’t provide a formal agenda or event timing to demonstrate contact hours for CPE, you can create one and save with additional event communication. CDR offers a sample timing outline.

7. Attend a live expo (for now). 

Dietetics-related exhibits (Activity Type 130) can count for up to 15 CEUs towards your 5-year cycle in the current activity cycles. However, note that when CDR implements upcoming changes to CEU guidelines, exhibit hours will no longer be eligible. But for now, if you are in the middle of a current activity cycle before those new guidelines are implemented, you can take advantage of this option.

  • Fancy Food Show
  • Gluten Free Expo
  • IDEA World Expo
  • ACSM Health & Fitness Summit Expo
  • Expo West / Expo East
  • School Nutrition Association ANC Expo
  • ANFP Regional or National Meeting Expos
  • Other local food shows or expo

You just need to ensure that there are dietetics-related exhibitors for the hours you track. Some of these options may not make sense financially if you’re not registered for a conference, but could be a great way to maximize CEUs if you’re already planning to attend. Other options (especially smaller local events) may be free or low cost when only attending the expo portion.

Keep documentation of the exhibits you visited for your own records in case of an audit (along with any official event documentation with the exhibitor information), but on your activity log, you can include all the exhibits for one day in a single entry. 

8. Use your employment perks for continuing education or tuition remission. 

If you work as a W-2 employee, see what types of benefits your organization may offer. In the private sector, you may receive a certain allowance for continuing education activities each year. These funds may be able to be used towards live conferences, online learning activities, and more. They’re often a “use it or lose it” type of perk, so check if you have ‘em, and if so – use ‘em!

Similarly, if you work at a university, you likely have access to free or discounted college courses via tuition remission programs. Academic coursework (Activity Type 100) can be an easy way to accumulate CEUs, with each semester course hour clocking in at 15 CEUs. That means a 3-credit course will knock out 45 of your 75 required CEUs!

Like all CEU requirements, the course must be dietetics related in some regard – but this can include courses outside of nutrition science that help with aspects of your dietetics career like business, marketing, or counseling.

9. Take a free “Massive Open Online Course”.

From Harvard to Stanford, you can find schools offering “massive open online courses” that are free for the public to access. These can be used for CEU credits (Activity Type 101) and there is no maximum amount of CEUs for this activity type.

To obtain these CEUs, the course must be through a US Department of Education recognized institution. You can search for MOOCs through a platform like edX or Coursera, and then double check the USDE accreditation status by searching the school in this Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs. (These platforms may include schools that are not USDE recognized, so be sure to double check before starting a course).

You can earn 1 CEU per contact hour of the course, and you should save the course completion certificate for your records. Note that some of these platforms may charge for a “verified” track, but you should be able to take the non-verified free track as long as you are able to retain some type of document that verifies you attended and completed the course.

10. Snag a discounted Academy membership…then take their CEUs.

Psst…time to let you in on a secret. Did you know that the Academy often sends out an offer for a major discount on membership after FNCE for non-members? If you’re not a member, keep your eyes peeled for a special email that may offer up to $99 off the cost of membership.

The caveat is you’ll only have half the year of membership (and you wouldn’t get FNCE at a member rate). But you can take those six months to complete any of the free CEU offerings they offer online and the two free self-study quizzes for journal articles each month. You’ll also score a discounted member rate on any of their paid CEU opportunities that you were hoping to complete.

A screenshot of an email with a discount for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics membership.

11. Apply for scholarships and awards.

Wondering why this is in a CEU article? There may be scholarships available to attend conferences, or you may come across awards that offer a monetary benefit that can be used towards continuing education. Many people don’t know these exist or simply assume they won’t win them, but it’s worth the time to apply!

Here are a few to consider (some may require financial need, some may be based on merit or experience, and others may be open to all):

  • The Academy offers several educational stipends or awards that come with a monetary benefit. You can typically use this money towards FNCE costs, helping make the conference more reasonably priced (especially if you’re local). You must be an Academy member to apply, but if you take advantage of the discounted membership offer mentioned above – it could be a great way to get the most out of your dues.
  • Certain DPGs may offer scholarships for their events. For example, NEDPG has previously offered a scholarship opportunity for their spring symposium to members in need. Check with your specific DPG to see if anything similar is offered.
  • Your local state Academy affiliate organizations may offer awards, which if won, may come with free admission to the local annual conference. (Check your state to see if this applies).
  • Today’s Dietitian sometimes offers scholarships to attend their Spring Symposium. You’ll still need to cover travel costs and book at the host hotel, but it may be a feasible option (especially if you’ve got some frequent flyer miles lying around).
  • Other events and conferences may offer scholarship opportunities too, and remember that live activities do not need to be CDR approved for CEUs, as long as the content fits the requirements mentioned earlier in the article.
A screenshot of an email from Today’s Dietitian with a scholarship opportunity for the annual symposium.

12. Take advantage of the Head Start opportunity.

If you’ve got access to a lot of CEUs in your final recertification year, take advantage of the Head Start option. With this, you would submit an activity log for all your 5-year cycle CEUs no later than March 17th of your final year. Then, you can also complete up to 15 CEUs between March 17th and May 31st (the couple months right before your new cycle starts) and submit those with the head start option, which will apply them to that next cycle.

13. Look for free or low-cost self-study CEUs from approved organizations.

Self-study activities (Activity Types 700-740) have requirements that are a bit stricter than live events, but you can still take self-study courses outside those approved by CDR. The key is that they must be approved by one of the following organizations:

American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA), Organizations accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME), Organizations accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE), American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC),  American Psychiatric Association (APA), American Psychological Association (APA), or the American Public Health Association (APHA).

If you can find free or low cost options that are approved by these organizations, you can count them as a self-study activity for CEU credit. Of course, be sure to double check your current PDP Guide to ensure these options have not changed.

14. Speak at a conference and attend the rest of the sessions.

Present on your favorite topic, get paid, AND earn CEUs? Yes, please! When you secure a speaking gig at a conference, you’re often paid via an honorarium (which are admittedly modest for educational events, but still helpful). In most cases, you also receive free admission to the rest of the event. That means outside of your speaking time, you can attend the rest of the sessions on the agenda and pocket those CEU hours.

Megan Boitano pictured during while delivering a presentation at the New Hampshire Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Association conference.
Megan Boitano, MS, RD, LDN

15. Claim your CEUs for precepting an intern.

Whether it’s a practicum student or a dietetic intern, you can earn free CEUs by precepting a student from an Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) accredited dietetics program (Activity Type 190).

Keep in mind this option offers the biggest time commitment for the least return. If you precept for 1-25 hours, you’ll earn 1 CEU, 26-50 hours earns you 2 CEUs, and 51+ hours earns you 3 CEUs. You can only claim a max of 3 CEUs each year, even if you precept multiple interns throughout the year that total much higher hours.

But, if you’re already acting as a preceptor – might as well take advantage of those each year! 3 per year still totals 15 over the course of the 5-year cycle, or 20% of your total CEU needs. Not bad for work you’re already doing.

Note: You do need to complete a specific form and have it signed by the program director, and retain this for your records.

16. Use the midpoint review.

RDs are able to submit a midpoint log for CDR to review. If you’re curious if some of your CEUs will pass review, this is a great way to do a brief “check in” to see how much progress you’ve made towards the 75 CEU goal.

You can submit between 30 to 74 CEUs by clicking the “Submit Log for Mid-Point Review” button on your log summary screen (after you’ve logged those activities). Keep in mind this has to be submitted prior to December 1st of the final year of the 5-year recertification cycle.

17. Get to know CDR policies and resources.

CDR has a few other helpful resources and policies that may be useful in saving you from the costs (both time and financial) of missing your CEU deadline. Here are a few to keep in mind:

  • Your CEU activities need to be completed by May 31st of the final year, and should be submitted by that date. CDR does give a small grace period for submitting your learning plan and activity logs though – they note in the FAQ section that they’ll be accepted until June 30th of the final year of a recertification cycle. (The activities themselves still must have been completed by May 31st, though). If you completed your activities but simply forgot to submit them, you’ve got a tiny window to still get them in.
  • If you’ve gone through a significant medical issue, financial stress, or trauma which caused you to fall short on CEUs, you can try submitting an appeal to CDR. You may be able to ask for an extension, explaining the extenuating circumstances. You can find detailed information on the appeals process on their website.
  • Other events and conferences may offer scholarship opportunities too, and remember that live activities do not need to be CDR approved for CEUs, as long as the content fits the requirements mentioned earlier in the article.

The Bottom Line

Continuing education is vital to maintaining your credentials, but it doesn’t have to come with a hefty price tag. Using these money-saving hacks will help in your journey to meet your professional obligations without financial strain.

Recommended reading

Ready to learn more? We’ve hand-picked a few favorites from the blog. 

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