‘You are what you eat, literally’

Tips for healthy eating from a Medford chef and educator

Local chef Michelle Kearns teaches kids of all ages about healthy eating. In this photo, she poses with the dish “Sunshine Orange Face,” a meal she makes with preschoolers (Michelle Kearns/Special to The Sun).

The sun is out, the weather is warming and fresh fruits and vegetables are beginning to sprout. 

The season is ripe for healthy eating, especially in the Garden State. So Medford chef and educator Michelle Kearns, who focuses on farm-to-table cooking, has  some tips for beginners.

Kearns began her own healthy eating journey after struggling with preeclampsia, a pregnancy complication that results in high blood pressure. She became more aware of what she was putting into her body and that helped control her hypertension.

“You are what you eat, literally,” Kearns explained. “You’ll feel better, your body will function better and you’ll stay healthy.”

For many, creating a healthy routine can be difficult. Kearns said many people become accustomed to the “typical American diet” of processed, nonorganic foods.

“You are so used to processed foods and high sugar that your tastes may be a little off,” she noted. “But if you start eating more plant based and you cook it in really interesting ways, it will be delicious.”

The first step to preparing a tasty, healthful meal is procuring high-quality ingredients, Kearns said. She often shops at farmer’s markets and picks up fresh produce from her local CSA (community-supported agriculture).

As spring turns to summer, Kearns loves to buy berries, leafy greens and asparagus, but any in-season fruits and vegetables are good candidates for a meal.

“I try to keep as seasonal as possible, because that’s kind of how your body functions,” she advised. “What your body needs is what is in season. It makes a whole lot of sense.”

Eating local products can also help keep the Earth healthy, as it minimizes pollution created by food transportation and mass production, according to Kearns.

“If you know the farmer or you know where you’re getting your produce from, you can know what practices they use to farm,” she added.

Once the produce comes home, Kearns recognizes it can seem burdensome to prepare quick meals before fresh foods go bad. She usually plans her meals for the week ahead, so she buys only what she needs. Then, she prepares her produce by cleaning, pre-chopping or mixing before the day she’ll cook a meal. Kearns makes things like pesto and veggie burgers and pops them in the freezer until it’s time to eat.

“Once you actually have to cook, it’s so much less stressful,” she said. “Because you have some of that tedious stuff out of the way, you can just get right down to making whatever it is you’re going to make.”

For beginners, Kearns recommends trying simple recipes like tomato and basil salads or smoothies. For larger meals, think of “eating the rainbow.”

Each color provides different nutrients that we need,” she said. “If your plate is filled with several different colors of fruits and veggies, then you’ll have a nutritious plate of food in front of you.”

Kearns, who eats meat occasionally, hopes more people will start to eat plant based foods.

“Even if you’re doing that a couple nights a week, it’s just so beneficial for nutrition,” she said. “I think you’ll be healthier.”