AN INTERVIEW WITH MEREDITH ASPLUNDH: Natural Food Guru, Local Health Coach, Totally Cool Gal

Interview by Jennifer Henderson for Princeton Scoop

She believes eating and living healthfully are our patriotic duties. Roasted kale and kimchi are among her current obsessions. And if you tell her she can’t do something, like a triathlon or a marathon or a jump-roping contest, then watch out: She’s on her way to doing just that. Local health coach and natural food chef Meredith Asplundh embraces a lifestyle of whole foods and whole-body health, helping clients break out of their food-dependent ruts to do the same. I had the chance to indulge in a totally organic, no-grains-barred chat with her on how to give our pantries and refrigerators an organic overhaul, tips for inspiring the Scooplets to eat those greens without a fight, and the secrets to discovering our healthiest, best selves.

PrincetonScoop: I understand your professional career started off with a little Devil Wears Pradamoment.
Meredith Asplundh: My first job after college was working as the assistant to the editor in chief of Vogue, Anna Wintour. After my thousandth cappuccino run in stilettos that even a stripper wouldn’t wear, I decided it was time to move on. I became a beauty editor [for magazines including] Mirabella, Harper’s Bazaar, Self, and YM, and wrote about all things superficial. [Then] I wrote a [freelance] story for Elle called “Mother Nature.” It was about how your parents’ eating habits can largely influence your own, and that body-image messages are transmitted from mother to daughter, often through her own relationships with food. Finally, research and information I could relate to!

PS: Did your parents influence your habits, and ultimately, your future career in natural health?
MA: Yes, I was very much influenced by my parents’ eating habits in a positive way. My mom was extremely health conscious: She would practice yoga every morning and then make miso soup. She followed a strict macrobiotic diet for years. She would always offer us a choice: have what I’m having, or eat steak and peas like dad. I ate a little bit of everything, and no doubt the exposure to all of the good stuff rubbed off on me. I advocate the same everything-in-moderation mantra today.

PS: What’s your secret for jump-starting a more healthful lifestyle?
MA: My holistic background in nutrition and being a certified chef from The Natural Kitchen Cooking School offers the capability to affect permanent lifestyle changes. When you let go of food addictions and eat fresh and local, it’s amazing how much more creative and motivated you can be. The most important thing is to eat whole, unprocessed foods. What is a whole food? Can you imagine it growing? Does it have only one ingredient? When you start consuming the nourishing vitamins and minerals from whole foods, it’s pretty amazing how you stop having unhealthy cravings. And sticking with good food lies within [having] variety. Get creative, try new things [like] daikon radish, collards, kale, okra, burdock root, star fruit, shiitake mushrooms, moochi, millet, and Amaranth, barley. We’re lucky to have access to all of these wonderful things in our town [too]. Also, make sure your loved ones are supportive [because] a spouse with a penchant for cookies and ice cream after dinner is a surefire way to [sabotage your] efforts.

PS: And how do you work to maintain those efforts?
MA: For long-term health, fitness has to be a priority. Our ancestors didn’t sit in front of a computer or the TV or commute for hours on end. We do, and our children are fast becoming the first generation not to outlive their parents. Also, my background in holistic counseling has taught me that when your “primary foods” (the things that nourish your soul, such as your relationships, spouse, friends, family, career, spirituality, confidence, finances) are out of balance, it can lead to poor eating habits. Another principle to follow is to be a conscious consumer. Ask, where does it come from? Is it local? Organic? Genetically modified? And give yourself a break; get good sleep, and just chill.

PS: What advice would you give parents who don’t think it’s possible to get their kids on board with eating healthfully?
MA: I think getting kids involved in the grocery shopping, helping with the cooking, growing and picking vegetables from the garden, or the local farm is a great way to [place] food in a positive light. Create fun, festive nights such as “Taco Friday” or “Breakfast For Dinner Monday.” And always provide excellent choices. As long as the pantry and fridge are stocked with fresh, whole food products and vegetables, you can eliminate the potential eating battles. [Also] it’s good to include something simple your child will like on the plate to avoid any kind of eating stress, and it doesn’t have to be elaborate. Carrot sticks, cucumber, plain baked squash, plain brown rice. [Make] a rule to eat something of everything.

PS: And, we all need to know the answer to the million-dollar question: How do you get kids to eat vegetables?
MA: The key is to start introducing as many vegetables as possible at a young age so they don’t know any different. And always offer the freshest, best tasting [ones]. Sometimes children have a bad association; for example, they may hate celery because they ate a bitter piece once. The key is to keep offering it, pureed, whole, salted, sautΓ©ed, whatever. They say it takes 20 times before a child’s taste buds have adapted to a taste. I see it happening in my family. It’s hard work [but] be strong and don’t make the mistake of preparing a separate meal for your child. What’s served is served. The chances of them eating their peas go up when they know there’s no backup plan!

PS: What are the healthy staples we all should have in our pantries and refrigerators?
MA: Besides fresh, organic fruits and vegetables, some food staples for the pantry and fridge are organic short-grain brown rice, pumpkin seeds, almond butter, organic mixed-berry jelly, sprouted grain bread, raw cashews, whole-grain pastas, quinoa, Himalayan sea salt, whole-kernel popping corn, spelt pretzels, dried organic fruit, organic corn chips, almond, oat or coconut milk, olives, pickles, hummus, salsa, edamame beans, black beans, kidney beans, agave sweetened rice cakes, oatmeal, and homemade granola, just to name a few.

PS: What’s your go-to menu when you’re having friends over for dinner?
MA: I usually bust out the butternut squash and brown rice risotto (no cheese!) and a fruity salad like spinach with apples and walnuts or mixed greens with apricots, figs, and toasted nuts. If it’s summertime, most likely I’ll make pesto with basil from the garden. I just learned a new recipe that is killer and half the fat: frozen peas, olive oil, pine nuts, basil. That, over quinoa pasta and fresh Jersey corn, [and guess] who’s coming to dinner! Don’t get me wrong, we like to grill too, and there’s meat, [but] it just comes from a family-run local farm.

PS: It can’t be quinoa and spelt pretzels all of the time. You must have some guilty food pleasures…
MA: Definitely! Coconut ice cream, Rice Dream Rice Bites, [and] barbecue potato chips are my Achilles’ heel. I can thank my dad for that.

PS: You’ve got an event this Thursday at Luxaby Baby & Child. What is the one thing you most want to impress on the parents of young children?
MA: I know the information out there can be overwhelming, and with the amount of food allergies now, mealtime can be downright daunting. The best thing parents can do is serve home-cooked meals as often as possible. Create a ritual around dinnertime and make it positive, light candles, say grace. Honor the mealtime; it’s not only a time for nourishment, but social education. And I can’t advocate enough the importance of organic and non-genetically modified foods for children; their little bodies cannot metabolize the chemicals and toxins. There is so much more I want to say, but you’ll just have to come to Luxaby [to find out]!

PS: You also are actively involved in our community. Tell me about some of your favorite organizations.
MA: I’ve been involved with Homefront for years and currently act on the Advisory Board for a new coalition called the Women’s Initiative. It was created to bring awareness and volunteer opportunities about homelessness in Mercer County to the local community.

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