We sat down with award-winning registered dietitian nutritionist, Cordon Bleu Certified Chef and best-selling author Michelle Dudash, to hear about her new cookbook and how she balances work, life, and play.
In her new book, Clean Eating for Busy Families (Fair Winds Press), Dudash shares how to eat and cook clean, fresh foods for the whole family. She is the expert in empowering people
Check out our interview below.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and what inspired you to follow your career path?
I was born and raised in Fond du Lac, WI, where I also started working in restaurants at the age of 14. I’ve worked almost every position in restaurants, both front and back of the house.
My first degree was a B.S. in Dietetics (the study of food and nutritional science) from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I was really interested in nutrition as a senior in high school, so I enrolled in Nutritional Science 101 class freshman year in college. It was love at first sight, and I claimed my major and embarked on that path. After graduating, I moved to Tucson, Arizona to begin my culinary career.
My first job out of school was in foodservice management at a college. During that time, I became even more interested in the higher-end world of food. I was reading cookbooks like novels and stumbled upon an ad in Gourmet magazine for culinary school. I drove to Scottsdale the next day to tour the school and soon after I was enrolled. I quit my day job, moved to Scottsdale, started culinary school, and found an evening job working front-of-house at a Mobil five-star restaurant–Mary Elaine’s at The Phoenician. After that, I was a private chef, a personal chef, and then founded my culinary consulting firm, Chef Dudash Nutrition. I’ve been working in the food business for 25 years.
Clean eating has been a trending way to describe eating healthier. What exactly does “clean eating” mean to you?
At its foundation, clean eating means choosing foods closest to their most whole, least-processed state. A whole apple instead of apple fruit leather. Steel-cut oats instead of instant oats. Stone-ground whole-wheat flour instead of refined, bleached flour. A whole chicken thigh instead of pureed chicken pressed into a nugget with preservatives. Pretty much all food falls on a processing continuum, from low-processed to highly-processed, unless you’re literally plucking it off of a tree and eating it.
Foods that are less processed tend to be higher in nutrients (like fiber and potassium), contain no added sugar or salt, are void of dangerous added trans fats, and probably contain more phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals. While highly-processed foods may be fortified with nutrients like vitamin D, which can be useful, you can alternatively take a supplement if you’re falling short.
What was your motivation behind your new book?
The reality of cooking for my family hit home for me after the birth of my baby Scarlet. For several days straight even I, the chef nutritionist, stared into the refrigerator wondering what I’d have time to make for dinner. On one such occasion I figured out how to adapt my lighter chicken curry recipe to the slow cooker, and that’s when the idea for this book hit me. Over the next few months, I created original and improved recipes that fit my new-mom lifestyle, adopting a simpler, easier style of cooking using clean ingredients.
The birth of my second daughter, Stella, prompted me to create even more streamlined recipes with even fewer ingredients, which you’ll find in this second edition. My goal is to inspire and educate other families about how easily they, too, can eat clean with just a little knowledge.
What is your favorite recipe from your book?
Ah, there are so many that I love to cook and eat with my family. The recipe I’m making most often right now is my Easy Cod Fingers with 3-Ingredient Tartar Sauce. I made them on “Indy Style” on WISH-TV last month and they were devoured by the cast and crew. It’s a 30-minute dinner that is so easy to get on the table. It’s light, healthy, and delicious.
Is it true that it’s more expensive to eat healthier?
Eating healthier doesn’t have to be expensive. To stay within your budget, I recommend eating with the seasons. For example, right now that means stocking up on citrus, which is at its’ prime right now; avocados, which kick off in the spring; green beans; Alaska cod.
Where healthier eating can get significantly more expensive is with pre-made healthy meals and organic food. Organic doesn’t necessarily mean healthier, so don’t feel bad if you can’t afford organic food. What’s most important is making sure you’re getting more fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, nuts,
Legumes, like black beans, are such an economical protein source and so good for you. I have a whole chapter on vegetarian and vegan dinner recipes, plus most of the starters chapter is vegetarian. On Mondays, I usually cook a vegan dinner for my family. I feel good knowing it’s super healthy, delicious, and saved me a ton of money.
What advice would you give working moms, trying to balance career and making sure they make time to feed their families healthy meals?
Everyone has a different starting point so don’t try to compare yourself to the ideals on social media. Do what works best for you and your family. Pick a few 30-minute meals you can make in a given week. Or even just one recipe. Just start somewhere! Planning out seven homemade dinners in one week is probably not feasible for most busy families. But making a double batch of my Shredded Chicken Taco Meat will give you days worth of yummy, flavorful protein for you and your family.
Most importantly, though, is to have some sort of a meal plan. It can be as simple as writing the nights you’ll be home and then filling it in with the recipes you’ll make. Then fill in your grocery list with the ingredients you’ll need to make that happen. Get in a routine. I order my groceries on Sunday and they arrive Monday morning so I know I have pretty much everything I need for that week.
Indy’s wellness scene is slowly growing. Since your time in Indy, have you noticed an increase in interest of people looking to cook and eat healthier meals?
I’ve lived in Indiana for 2 and a half years. I came from Scottsdale, which is highly influenced by Los Angeles, which is perhaps furthest along in healthy eating and has a high demand.
In my social circle in Indiana, I find that there is definitely an interest in healthy eating and a demand for healthy recipes, with the keto, paleo, gluten-free and low-carb movement being very popular. My healthy recipes on Indy Style are really well-received by the audience. Comfort foods seem to be more popular here, which is completely understandable considering the cooler climate. I love finding ways to give people what they want. Like my White Bean & Chicken Chili and Simple-to-Assemble Lasagna that you’ll find in my book. I create recipes that I crave and think that other people will crave, too. At the grocery stores here, I’m able to find everything I need for everyday healthy cooking.
Clean Eating for Busy Families, revised and expanded: Simple and Satisfying Real-Food Recipes You and Your Kids Will Love is available now on Amazon.