A Conversation with Ellie Krieger NY Times Bestselling Author of The Food You Crave and Food Network Host Q: When did you discover your passion for food? Ellie Krieger: This is funny because I was born with it. My mother says that my becoming a nutritionist is like a pyromaniac becoming a fireman. She thinks it’s a positive transference. From the stories my mom tells, I had a passion for food and trying new dishes and actually overdid it. As a two year old, I could eat a whole chicken! For a time, my pediatrician worked with my mother to help me adapt to more toddler-appropriate meals. I think that turning my inborn passion for delicious tastes into something very positive is one of the best things in my life. Q: You studied nutrition at Cornell while you were also a fashion and beauty model, traveling all over the world. How did that come about and what brought you back to food and nutrition? Ellie: Interestingly, nutrition and modeling were very connected for me. As a teenager, I had decided to get in shape and adopt a new approach to food. This lifestyle change transformed me, and nutrition became very much a calling. I also love science and at Cornell chose to major in nutrition because it fulfilled all the requirements for pre-med. After freshman year, I needed a summer job and some friends working in the hair and make-up fields suggested I try modeling and gave e some leads. I pounded the pavement, and—with only $50 left in the bank—landed a booking and then a job in Japan. That was the beginning of my multi-national experience, which flavored and influenced my outlook on cuisine, nutrition, and the variety of rich ingredients used in different cultures. My modeling lasted longer than I thought it would, and it was a great, flexible career that enabled me to pay for college, pursue my master’s, and added new dimensions to my passion for foods. Q: You are a credentialed nutritionist and New York Times bestselling author, have been an adjunct professor, maintained a private practice, and now host a hit show, “Healthy Appetite,” on Food Network—how would you describe yourself? Ellie: To me, all the roles are connected to teaching people how to eat well, enjoy their lives, and give them the tools and inspiration to make change in their lives. All my work in nutrition was with that goal in mind, whether one-on-one with clients, or writing for magazines, or as an adjunct professor when I was teaching nutrition education to master’s students. That’s what I love about this field—there are so many ways to reach and inspire people. Also, my family life is so much of who I am. I’m the mom of a soon-to-be six year old, and I love cooking with my daughter. We make pancakes practically every weekend. My husband is a real outdoorsman; we’ll all snowshoe together and recently we went on a three-mile hike with a picnic. That’s my bliss. -- more -- Q: How do you define lifestyle and the art of living well? Ellie: Living well is being able to do, enjoy, and taste everything that life has to offer. I think that you can live life to the maximum by being in balance, which sounds like a conundrum, yet balance is what it takes to live full out. I encourage and nurture a satisfying and sumptuous, attainable lifestyle, meaning there is no rigidity or hard, fast rules. There are ways to achieve balance in food, health and life, and to have joy right at our fingertips. One of my missions is to help people find peace and be able to enjoy food and relax. People are so stressed out about food; this is too fatty, this has mercury or too many carbs, this is not locally grown. We lose the joy of sensuous and scrumptious eating. From so many fronts, we hear we are not being well enough, we are not quite up to snuff. My whole focus is: ―Almost, in a consistent way, is good enough.‖ We don’t have to be perfect, thank goodness. I really believe that, and try to live that, and help people take a deep breath, and say, ―I can make smart decisions based on what I have in front of me.‖ I give them a strategy so they can host a dinner party or go out with friends in a wonderful communal experience and feel like they are doing well. I believe wellness is a three-legged stool. One leg is what we eat, how we nourish ourselves. The second leg is being active, whether that involves gym exercise, throwing a Frisbee, walking after dinner with your family, kayaking on vacation, or simply enjoying movement. The third part is lifestyle, being able to deal with stresses in life, getting enough sleep; these are all so interconnected. Q: Your 2008 book, The Food You Crave, was a New York Times bestseller and went back to print more than five times. What about it has struck a chord with people? Ellie: What I find amazing is that a lot of people see healthy on one side of the spectrum and delicious eating on other. This book is the answer. You can have health and wellness, feel great, look your best and eat great. Also, the food’s yummy, and I think people were looking for this. Too often, we think of nutrition as compromised taste: ―Drink this green gloppy slop, it’s good for you.‖ That is not for me. My standard for The Food You Crave was it had to be craveable. Q: What type of person do you find responds to the fresh lifestyle messages in your books and television show? Do you hear from both women and men? Ellie: During my book tour, I made such great, genuine connections with people. It was so amazing to meet the people who were actually making the food: the teenaged girls, parents coming in with their children, teenaged boys who were cooking for families, all the way to husbands and boyfriends. For some, this was their first cookbook. Young parents were thinking about their well-being in a different way now that they had families of their own. I love to hear that men, who initially thought my recipes would be like rabbit food, found it totally satisfying. I knew they would because I have a big he-man husband who is my tester and if he’s happy with the food and its heartiness, then just about any guy is going to be. -- more – Q: You heard from moms and dads stressed about cooking well for children. You have a wealth of professional and personal knowledge about making food that kids love. What do you tell parents who are worried? Ellie: Whatever you do, don’t make the dinner table a battlefield. Rather, try to foster an environment where meals are a time of relaxation and discovery. A tall order I know, but if you move in that direction you will be on the right track. For starters, involve your children in the shopping and food preparation. Let them choose the vegetable for the meal or let them toss the salad, for example. Try to cultivate awareness of the color, flavor and aroma of food. One thing you can do is encourage them to eat the rainbow every day; something red, orange, yellow, green and blue. You will be amazed at how children take on the challenge and before you know it, they are begging you for something green! Q: How have your world travels influenced your world of food? Is there any particular international cuisine you like to bring into your meals to spice up dishes? Ellie: Growing up in New York City with adventurous parents, I always had many different types of cuisine at my fingertips. My travels internationally with modeling broadened my experiences further. I love to use ideas and flavors from all over the globe, from Central America to the Mediterranean to Asia, but I use them in a way that doesn’t take people too far out of their comfort zone or force them to buy a lot of exotic ingredients. My multicultural experiences taught me that it is not just what you eat but the way you eat that can make a difference. Taking the time to sit down and savor a meal is something most other cultures practice but sadly gets lost too often in our hectic lives here. Q: Do you consider yourself a typical foodie? How would you define a typical foodie? Ellie: Foodies run the full spectrum from farmers to restaurateurs of five-star establishments, to anyone who cares about food. If it’s someone who is incredibly passionate about food, I am definitely in that club. I think that people are foodies in different ways. Some foodies are more about eating with total abandon, some are growing food and some are cooking it. I am a foodie and a nutritionist. Q: Where do you like to shop for food? If someone were to open your refrigerator or pantry, what five ingredients would they find there all the time? Ellie: My absolute favorite places to shop are the farmer’s markets, hands down. I like to meet the farmers, be around the local produce, and feel connected to where the food is from, I love love love that. I love New York because of all the small specialty stores. I sometimes go around to literally five stores in my neighborhood to purchase items. I love that I have a butcher and I can go into the shop and say, ―I want four center-cut loin pork chops, three-quarter of an inch thick, well trimmed,‖ and I get exactly that, I don’t have to search for it. The environment and mindset of food has been changing and now there are so many great options. -- more -- As to five ingredients in my pantry…someone looking will find a lot more than five. I have a stocked fridge and cupboard all the time. To me, the basics are milk, eggs, butter, nuts, shrimp, spinach, peas, hummus, prewashed greens, a variety of fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, and if I am traveling and can’t get to the market, I will have a stock of frozen mangos so I can make smoothies. I try to fill my cupboard so that even if things are hectic, I have the ingredients for a really easy, great meal: whole wheat penne that I can cook up with some frozen shrimp and peas and dried herbs. I always try to have good food readily available. Q: Grocery chains now include organic produce sections and people are making the move toward eating well. What’s behind the trend? Ellie: I think the organic trend is grounded in a new conscientiousness about the environment. What we eat and the way we eat has a tremendous impact on the world environmentally and politically and I think people understand that more and more. People are choosing to make a difference in the world by making a better choice toward organic, toward local food. I also do think there’s a bit of a personal health element; there’s a little mistrust of the global production system and knowing where our food is from, and some are enjoying the closer connection of buying locally. Q: You’ve brought the personal touch to your web site, healthylivingwithellie.com, where people can enter their information to receive a personalized eating plan. Why is that so important? Ellie: Many people write to me with personal questions and are hungry for answers. On the healthy living site, I discover their particular goals and needs and help them draw up a tailored plan for menus to suit caloric and nutritional preferences. I’m very careful not to call it a diet; to me, that is totally a four-letter word. This program gives you a full understanding of what your nutritional day should look like, plus all these tools—a daily menu planner, a tracking system to follow your progress and it gives you support, as well. You get consistent e-mails to keep the information fresh and at the front of your mind. And there’s another level of help where you can actually get someone on the phone to help you. Research shows that informed tracking helps keep people motivated and moving forward. Q: Why do you avoid the word “diet”? Ellie: I’ve seen so many people struggle with diets, as I have, and I personally have had my challenges with both ends of the eating spectrum that were not in balance. It’s amazing how many waffle between dieting and binge eating, out of balance in a place that is not sustainable. I hope to help people off that emotionally and physically taxing rollercoaster into a fresh, healthy, maintainable lifestyle. -- more -- Q: Given the relationship that you have with the fashion world through your journey with modeling, what are fashion “fits” for you? What are your personal must-haves in wardrobe and accessories? Ellie: You need a good pair of black slacks, a great pair of jeans—the basics. I also happen to love handbags. My husband thinks I have a problem, which I just may. I also love accessories. I wear many basic outfits and spice things up with handbags, cool jewelry, or a neat blouse. (And a good bra makes all the difference in the world!) As a mom and a busy person, I want to keep things simple. I like it to be a no-brainer. As I get older I realize that not every trend is flattering. I am more selective and I must be comfortable. I don’t have to be part of a trend, but rather I go with what really complements me the most. Q: How do you like your exercise…gym or non-gym? Ellie: I like variety. I love doing yoga once or twice a week, spin class, and weight training. Weather permitting, I like to get out on a bike. I love to be active, go for hikes, love kayaking and snow shoeing, I seize the day as a opportunity to do something active, even if it’s walking around city, with all my bags from my specialty store stops. Q: As a mom, what do you want to teach your daughter about her lifestyle choices? Ellie: I want to teach my daughter to appreciate, honor, and listen to her body. If she can do that she will be able, ultimately, to enjoy life to the fullest and make smart choices for herself. I help her experience the pleasure of good food, and approach it as a sensory adventure. And I strive to help her retain that natural joy she and all children have from being active. Q: What’s your “recipe for success” when you entertain friends at home? Ellie: I really believe that adage that if a host is enjoying herself, others will. Keep it relaxed by serving something made ahead of time. I love to do things that are also really casual. I once had party where I ―served‖ three pots of chili on the stove: a light chili, a vegetarian version, and confetti chili with beef. All the fixins’ were on the table and people had great fun. It was amazing, delicious, and easy to make, and P.S., healthy. I might also add a touch of total decadence like a great blue cheese, to balance healthful choices with a rich ingredient. It’s all about a balance of choices so our lives are vibrant, full of fresh flavors, and easy.
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