As I fitness professional and health coach, I often get asked about what I eat. Do I gnaw on carrots all day and eat kale for dessert? While I do love carrots and kale: no, not exactly. Eating healthy is a big part of my life, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy eating! In fact, if you take a look at any of my favorite recipes, you’ll know I love eating healthy and flavorful food. So, without going into what I eat every day (which you could probably get a good idea from my recipe pages), I thought I’d ask Team GHU friend and registered dietitian, McKenzie Hall. After all, who doesn’t want to know what a registered dietitian (whose job is helping people eat well!) eats every day?
A Q&A with McKenzie Hall, RD:
What inspired you to become an Registered Dietitian? Where and when did you go to school?
My love for food and spending time in the kitchen was formed at a young age and was really inspired by my grandmother. This past September, she tuned 85 years young and still grows all of her own vegetables and makes everything from scratch. It may sound cliché, but I wanted to become a dietitian because it combined my two loves: people and living a healthy lifestyle.
I was first drawn to the idea of helping people develop more positive relationships with food and more respect for their bodies. Food has this incredible way of fighting disease and helping us feel energetic, strong, and vibrant. I love helping people feel empowered about their own health and food choices and educating the public that a healthy body and lifestyle is not a one-size-fits-all.
From a very early point in my education, I knew that I wanted to be a dietitian who worked in communications. While in college, I assisted for the on-campus dietitian and from her guidance, I realized I could combine my passion for writing (I initially majored in English) with nutrition and helping others achieve healthy, balanced lifestyles. I graduated from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo in 2009 and then completed my dietetic internship at Bastyr University in Seattle, Washington.
What does a day in the life of “McKenzie” look like? Walk us through what foods you eat on the regular.
I’m a morning person, so I usually start my day a bit earlier than most. I drink a big glass of water with a splash of coconut water first thing when I wake up (mainly because I like the taste) and either go on a walk, head off to an early morning Pilates class or a workout at the gym. When I get back, I make breakfast for myself and my husband. Breakfast is my favorite meal; I usually rotate between a poached egg on avocado toast, baked oatmeal with a dollop of yogurt, homemade muesli with frozen berries or a veggie and egg scramble with leftover roasted potatoes. On the weekends, we like whole grain pancakes or whole grain French toast from time to time, too.
Between breakfast and lunch, I usually have fruit with a slice of cheese or a handful of homemade trail mix. Lunch is usually leftovers from dinner the night before. I deliberately make extra servings every night for dinner so lunch the next day is practically a no-brainer. My days are full so I always appreciate having healthy food ready to go. For dinners, we love big salads with roasted veggies and some form of protein, such as grilled chicken or baked salmon. I’m also totally in love with my slow cooker—it’s not overly glamorous but it makes dinner time so incredibly easy. Slow Cooker Sweet Potato & Black Bean Chili is my favorite meal this time of year. After dinner, I usually have something sweet whether it’s a piece of chocolate or a small homemade cookie (I like to make homemade cookies or brownies and freeze the leftovers so I’m not tempted to eat the whole batch in one sitting. Just warm one serving in the microwave for 15-30 seconds and it’s good to go!). You’ll also find me sipping on water all day long. I carry my water bottle with me wherever I go!
Are there any foods you would never eat?
I’m not one to say that I would “never” have something because it usually backfires. I’m not a fan of smoked anything, though. And I could easily go without ever having a hot dog (the overly processed kind) again in my life.
What would you say is your mantra or slogan when is comes to living healthfully?
“Each moment is a new opportunity to be kind to yourself.”
So often we put the needs of others ahead of ourselves, but the reality is that we can be the most helpful to others when we take care of ourselves first. Treat yourself to an apple or carrot sticks because you know it’s the kind thing to do to your body. And if you’re really craving a cookie, honor your craving, enjoy it, and skip the guilt trip. You had a cookie because it was the kind thing to do. Go for walk or take an extra sip of water because they are ways to show yourself a little kindness.
What are the top 5 foods you recommend everyone incorporate into their diet?
If there are 5 foods I could encourage people to eat, they would be more red and purple produce such as berries and tomatoes (that counts as one right?!), dark leafy greens, legumes (such as lentils and beans), nuts and seeds, and cruciferous veggies.
What do you recommend for food sensitivities? Ex. Gluten/dairy/vegetarian
When it comes to eating patterns in general, I like to focus more of what you can have than what you can not have. It’s all about having the glass-half-full mentality. For example, if you have a sensitivity toward gluten, I like to remind others that there are tons of foods available that are naturally gluten-free including fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, eggs, seafood, dairy and even certain grains like rice, corn, quinoa, buckwheat and millet. Take advantage of all those nutrient-rich foods that you can have!
There are also a lot of myths surrounding vegetarian or even vegan diets. The myth I hear most often is that it’s difficult to get enough protein from plant foods which just isn’t true. Whether you’re eating quinoa, chickpeas, squash, peanuts or avocados, you’re taking in protein; and certain foods—like legumes and nuts—are rich sources. And we now know that it’s simple to obtain all the essential amino acids from plant foods. I recommend having a good quality source of protein at each meal or snack and you should have no problem meeting your protein needs. My friend and colleague, Sharon Palmer, is the author of The Plant-Powered Diet and Plant-Powered for Life—two great resources that help to answer questions about plant-based diets.
How about organic? Anything you’d never buy non-organic?
My bottom line when it comes to buying organic is that I would rather see people eating more nutrient-dense foods and fruits and vegetables in general. I would rather you choose a non-organic apple or banana over an organic candy bar. If you do have organic produce available and you’d like to select where to put your dollars, I recommend starting with the Dirty Dozen—the produce found to contain the highest amount of pesticides—developed by the Environmental Working Group. When it comes to animal protein such as meat, eggs, and dairy, I like to seek out suppliers that support humanely raised agriculture.
What about the holidays or social events? What’s your advice for this often tempting environment?
My number one tip for the holiday season is to not starve yourself. How many times have you ‘saved up’ for a party by not eating all day…and ended up eating everything in sight? Eating something every three to five hours, beginning with breakfast, helps to keep your hunger cues and cravings in check, your energy level up and your blood sugar stable.
I also think it’s so helpful to make a game plan. Plan on enjoying the foods that you think are truly worthy of your taste buds—whether it’s sweet potato casserole, stuffing or pie—and skip the ones you can do without. Do you really want that candy cane or extra gravy anyway?
Lastly, get moving! Start a new holiday tradition and go on an evening walk with your family or friends. It helps to break up all that food around you, prevents the mindless munchies, and gives you some fresh air.