Corporate Chef for Great New Hampshire Restaurants (Copper Door, Cactus Jack’s and T-Bones); Inagural Leader for the Kids LiveWell Program; Bachelor’s Degree in Hospitality Management and a Master’s Degree in Organizational Leadership / Marketing; Mother to two vegetable-loving girls, ages 3 and 1.
Anita: Hi Nicole. I am really looking forward to talking with you today about your passion for nutrition and how you share that passion as a chef and as a mom. So first, how did you become so interested in health and nutrition?
Nicole:It was really my mom who ignited my passion for great food and healthful ingredients. My parents are Italian & Portuguese, and so food has always been a really big part of our lives. All our good times and special occasions revolve around food. When growing up, my mom would spend most of the day planning, shopping, cutting, chopping and preparing our meals. My sisters and I loved to help out whenever we could. My mom always served a lot of vegetables, and so I learned to appreciate the benefits of eating vegetables even when I was young.
Anita: I love that your mom ignited your passion for nutrition. That is really what this blog is all about … to explore how we, as moms, can get our kids excited about eating healthy. I know you have some great tips for us, but before we talk about your strategies with your kids, tell us about how you became a chef.
Nicole: Well, in high school it was very clear to me that I wanted a culinary career. But I was also very academic, so I paired my culinary artistry with a culinary degree from Southern New Hampshire University, along with a Bachelor’s Degree in Hospitality Management and then received a Master’s Degree in Organizational Leadership / Marketing.
Anita: Wow! That is quite a foundation of expertise. And so tell us how you have spread your passion for nutrition through your career.
Nicole: I am the corporate chef for Great New Hampshire Restaurants, which includes three concepts, T-Bones, Cactus Jack’s and Copper Door. We have eight locations and a wide variety of menu choices. Our owners are also very health-conscious, and we believe that it is our responsibility to meet our guests’ nutrition needs. We have always been very willing to listen to what our guests want and to prepare meals that please our guests and meet their nutritional needs. I also wanted to make it easy for our guests who prefer lower calorie, lower fat and lower carbohydrate meals, so I developed a selection of menu items called “In the Pink.”
“Involve kids in the preparation of healthful meals, no matter how young. Even if it is just giving an empty bowl and spoon on the floor to ‘play’ with. Always have little snacks with you, like whole grain cereals, fruits, or granola when you head out for the day. It starts with the shopping cart really. If you do not buy a lot of processed foods, you wont reach for them Tuesday night. If you have a lot of strawberries, you’re going to eat a lot of strawberries, etc.”
Anita: Tell us about the name “In the Pink.”
Nicole: “In the Pink” is a 16th-century term meaning in perfect condition, especially of health. That is why a healthy newborn baby is referred to as “in the pink.” I even wear a bright pink chef’s apron. Soon after we launched my “In the Pink” menu items, we joined the HEALTHY DINING PROGRAM, and most of our “In the Pink” items are featured on HealthyDiningFinder.com.
Anita: I really like your site, ChefNicole.com, which has with lots of great recipes, although not all of them HEALTHY DINING-approved, ha ha! And you were then invited to become an Inaugural Leader in the Kids LiveWell Program, developed by the National Restaurant Association. Tell us about your Kids LiveWell options.
Nicole: I think it is so important to feed kids high quality, nutritious meals. That is really my passion. We were thrilled to be an Inaugural Leader for Kids LiveWell. We offer three qualifying kids’ options on each restaurant menu, including grilled salmon or BBQ chicken, both served with a half baked potato, steamed broccoli and 1% milk. We also have a Grilled Chicken Salad with lots of crunchy veggies and warm grilled chicken on our garden fresh salad, served with homemade salsa and 1% milk to drink. Kids really like those items, and parents can feel good that their kids are getting a high quality, nutritious meal.
“No matter if you are a professional chef or a novice cook, feeding the little ones healthful, well balanced meals and snacks can be very trying. I believe, however, that it needs to be viewed as not simply a task, but a matter of your child’s health…because it is. We wouldn’t think of skipping vaccinations or sick check-ups, but the food we feed our kids seems to be a smaller thought.”
Anita: Yum. Yes, my daughter would like any of those. I think it is so exciting to see chefs, like you, considering the healthfulness of your kids’ menus and adding your creativity to find nutritious ingredients that kids like. And with the Kids LiveWell program, it is getting easier and easier to find healthy meals for kids when eating out. Thank you for your leadership in the program! So, now tell me about your kids. Are they healthy eaters?
Nicole: Yes, they are! Chloe is three and Gabriella is just over one. As you can see by the pictures, my girls already love vegetables and love to help in the kitchen! I think it is really fun to have them help me prepare meals. As a busy, working mom, it can be hard to find the time for snuggling your kids and preparing healthful meals on weeknights, so I combine the two! It is our special time together.
Anita: Those pictures are adorable! So do they eat every type of vegetable?
Nicole: No, In fact, one day they will try something new and like it and the next day they hate it. But that is OK. I just continue to introduce new foods and reintroduce foods that they didn’t like at one time. I think it is really important to keep trying new types of foods and reintroducing things they think they don’t like, prepared other ways.
“I will feel like I was a successful parent if my kids grow up to instill healthy eating habits into their day to day lives and then carry that on to their kids.”
Anita: Yes, that is what Elizabeth Pivonka also emphasized. She is the President of Produce for Better Health and is working hard to help Americans eat more fruits and vegetables. She said it is really important to keep trying new fruits and vegetables with kids because their taste buds mature over time. She also emphasized that parents need to purposefully forget that their kids don’t like something, so that they don’t reinforce that dislike to the child. I thought that was great advice.
Nicole: I agree! Even textures that were once not appealing can be fine two or three months later! I also talk at their level about nutrition. For example, I will say, “Eat this. It is made with olive oil, so it will give you long, beautiful princess hair.” Or “Eat this chicken and you will have strong muscles so you can play outside.” I think it is really important to educate kids about WHY they should eat healthy not just tell them to do it. I won’t always be able to control what they eat, so I want to instill the knowledge and dedication they need to want to eat healthy. I will feel like I was a successful parent if my kids grow up to instill healthy eating to their kids.
Anita: Yes, that is really important! And I think you will find you were very successful, Nicole. Thanks so much for all you are doing in your work and as a mom to contribute to a healthier America!