Ellie Krieger is just as considerate and poised on the phone as she is on her hit Food Network show, Healthy Appetite. I called her for an interview a couple of weeks ago, and surprisingly she answered her own phone. My jitters about interviewing her immediately melted away as soon as we started talking.
Krieger is a registered dietitian with degrees from Cornell and Columbia universities and is the author of two best-selling books (and another one coming out later this year). Her second book, "The Food You Crave: Luscious Recipes for a Healthy Life," has been reprinted five times and won a James Beard award (think of it like an Oscar for chefs and food writers) this year for best book with a healthy focus.
Those criteria alone make her one of the most knowledgeable food TV personalities, but it's her insatiable appetite for life and experience as a busy wife and mother (of a 6 1/2 year old girl named Isabella) that make her so relatable.
"I was born loving food," said Krieger, laughing. "My mother said that me becoming a dietitian was like a pyromaniac becoming a firefighter."
She was an overweight child and stayed chubby until puberty. "Something snapped in me, and I became uncomfortable in my own skin."
'A Huge Turning Point'
In what she calls a "huge turning point in my life," Krieger swapped chips and junk for vegetables, slowed down her snacking and really started developing a love for healthful, whole foods.
During her late teens and early 20s, while working as a model, Krieger saw the other side of the coin and became "almost overly conscientious" of food before finding her balance in life.
Her books and her show are characterized by healthful, flavorful recipes made from unprocessed foods that really let the natural flavor shine. It's no gimmick, said Krieger, now 43.
"I'm always looking for solutions for me, and (my cooking style) evolved from just feeding myself and my family," she said. "I'm working and I'm juggling all the things that a busy person does."
Having spent years in private practice as a dietitian, she saw her clients struggle with the same issues: getting a healthful dinner on the table each night, incorporating more vegetables into their meals and trying to resist the temptation of quick-fix junk foods and emotional eating.
So what does a world-famous dietitian feed her husband and daughter when time is tight?
"I've got certain go-to's. Something can be super simple and delicious. My latest favorite is Dijon mustard and honey spread on salmon fillets."
She bakes it for 15 minutes at 375 degrees Fahrenheit, steams some broccoli or broccolini and drizzles it with olive oil and lemon.
Eating Vegetables--No Excuses
As for that familiar struggle to get more vegetables into one's diet, the key is to make vegetables a part of your life and a crucial component of your daily meals, not an afterthought or garnish.
She's passing along those good habits to her daughter, she said.
"Cooking and eating with her is one of the biggest joys in my life," said Krieger.
Getting Kids on Board
When it comes to getting kids to eat right, "you can't make it a battle. Rather, introduce food as this wonderful joyous part of life that's up for inspiration."
To eliminate struggles over vegetables, she capitalizes on a trait that most children possess: a desire to be in control.
She takes Isabella to a farmers market or supermarket and lets her choose the vegetable for dinner.
"She's picked up this massive stalk of Brussels sprouts," said Krieger, who lives in New York. Getting them involved and in the kitchen is key to getting them to try and eat new foods.
She started Isabella out with a plastic knife and a few other kid-safe tasks. Now mom and daughter love making pancakes together.
"She can measure," said Krieger. "It's just so much fun."
They create just one meal for the entire family--Isabella eats what the grown-ups eat without fuss.
"I believe in making one dinner that's the family dinner. We have family meals."
Touting Liquid Sunshine
Krieger recently became the first registered dietitian to be part of the "Milk Mustache" campaign, the magnitude of which humbled her.
"It was a huge honor, such an iconic honor," she said.
"There are so many resources that go into promoting foods and drinks that are so nutritionally void," so to actually be able to "influence people to drink a beverage that's incredibly nutritious," was an irresistible opportunity.
Krieger's focus was the importance of Vitamin D, which combines with calcium to help strengthen bones. She shared recipes and tips for incorporating "Liquid Sunshine" into your daily meals.
Her ad touts the importance of this underrated vitamin: “When it comes to wellness, little things really make a difference. Like drinking three glasses of lowfat or fat free milk a day. It’s loaded with Vitamin D, the sunny super nutrient whose preventive health benefits have everyone buzzing. Just think of it as liquid sunshine.”
Vitamin D works with calcium to keep bones strong, but despite its importance, researchers estimate most of us aren't getting enough of it.
According to recent government data, only 4 percent of men and 1 percent of women over the age of 51 meet vitamin D recommendations from food. The researchers found that even some infants and small children seem to be failing to get enough vitamin D. Experts suggest the chronic low intakes of vitamin D have been behind the resurgence of rickets – a severe vitamin D deficiency that results in bone deformities.
The new vitamin D ad featuring Krieger is part of a new initiative to draw attention to vitamin D deficiencies.
Eighty-eight percent of Americans believe they get the vitamin D they need from the sun, according to a recent survey commissioned by the “got milk?” campaign. For most people, vitamin D is not even on their radar screen. Seventy-five percent are not sure how much vitamin D they need and there is significant confusion about where to find it – 23 percent believe exercising regularly will increase their vitamin D and one in five Americans believe a good night’s sleep will replenish their vitamin D.
Visit GetYourD.com to take a vitamin D quiz, and find tips and recipes from Ellie Krieger.
Do you worry about your own vitamin D intake? Will you check out Krieger's recipes?