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Natural Awakenings Central New Jersey

A Clinician in the Kitchen

An interview with Jeanne Petrucci, MS, RDN and founder of Living Plate Nutrition Education and Counseling Center in Far Hills, NJ.

NA: At, you emphasize “Science-based nutrition. Taste-based cooking” – could you please explain?

JP: We like to say, “We take nutrition education very seriously, but we love to play with our food.” Our programming is grounded in evidence presented in both health behavior and nutrition research – that’s the science part of it. Our workshops reflect the latest in nutrition knowledge and encourage everyone to think about what foods can help them achieve optimal health and why these foods are important. For people to gain confidence in selecting, cooking, storing, and eating healthy foods we need to get them comfortable in the kitchen. We roll up our sleeves and work side by side with our clients to help them achieve their personal health goals and have fun in the process. Good nutrition need not be intimidating! Our integrative approach, combining nutritional counseling with hands-on cooking experience, empowers our clients to take control of their own health.

NA: How did Living Plate start?

JP: I was a cooking instructor for 15 years before I decided to pursue a career in nutrition. I loved teaching people how to prepare wholesome foods and wanted to offer more than anecdotes as an explanation for why these foods were healthy. I started taking nutrition courses and became hooked – seven years, a graduate degree, and an internship later, I became a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. Through this process, I learned that a gap exists between what people know and what they actually practice. Cooking skills, time constraints, social support, food preferences, and perceived cost of healthy foods all need to be addressed. The Living Plate facility and programming allows our team to break down these barriers, one at a time if necessary, so people can navigate their own path to sustained change.

NA: That makes sense! So how is it going?

JP: Really great! It is important to us that we constantly evaluate our services and programming. After every appointment, clients receive an email and are asked about their experience at Living Plate. We are deeply committed to customer service and are thrilled that feedback has been very positive. We also evaluate every program session we deliver. To date, 98% of our program participants express increased confidence in selecting, preparing, storing, and eating healthy foods. Participants are also able to recall important lessons from the workshop, completing a brief quiz before they leave. Additionally, they are asked to set a goal and commit to preparing a dish at home from the session’s culinary experience. This is important to ensuring that behaviors learned at Living Plate are practiced at home. Only then do behaviors become sustainable. It is amazing and gratifying to see research in action!

NA: What types of health concerns does your programming address?

JP: Diet has a profound effect on improving many health conditions. Our foundation program, Living Plate THRIVE, is customized and can address any condition that is impacted by diet. This includes, but is not limited to weight, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, lipid disorders, cancer, and gastrointestinal disorders. Our team has varied professional and clinical experience in all of these areas. When an individual decides to work with us, they get our entire team. As credentialed healthcare providers, we are also able to work with an individual’s existing primary care physician or specialist. We are fortunate to partner with some of the areas top clinicians who refer patients to us.

NA: So what’s next for Living Plate?

JP: I love that question because we are always looking to forward our practice and explore new areas to apply our model. There are several projects we are looking forward to implementing in 2016.

First, we have collaborated with AICR [American Institute for Cancer Research] in Washington, D.C. and Cancer Support Community in Bedminster, NJ, to co-author “Coping with Cancer in the Kitchen” – a 7-week nutrition education program that incorporates culinary instruction. Research suggests that nutrition is a top concern of those touched by cancer. The pilot has been fully funded and will be implemented this spring in New Jersey. Second, we are partnering with iRMS [Institute for Reproductive Medicine and Science] at St. Barnabas to deliver “Fuel Your Fertility” – an 8-week nutrition education program that draws on research from the Harvard School of Public Health. Weight loss, improved fertility, and healthier pregnancies are goal outcomes. Fuel Your Fertility will be offered at the iRMS Livingston location this spring. Lastly, we are working with the Meatless Monday Campaign in New York City to develop a nutrition education program for adolescents. The program is called “Kids Cook Monday” and will be based on materials already created in collaboration with my professors at Columbia University. This 5-week program will empower 13-17 year olds to select, prepare, and cook healthy meals. We are looking to launch this effort in early summer.

NA: Congratulations! You have a lot going on – how do you have time to cook at home? Can you give our readers some tips to getting healthy, family-friendly meals on the table?

JP: Thank you - we are fortunate to be collaborating with these Gold-Standard organizations. Everyone is busy these days so it is important to be realistic about meal preparation. I can answer both of your questions with two words: Batch cooking! It is very important for me to practice what I preach and the team at Living Plate feels the same way. We are constantly in search of practical, time saving strategies to get healthy food on the table in a snap. Preparing key items ahead of time is key: Steam batches of broccoli, string beans, and cauliflower. Roast Brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes. Make a batch of quinoa. Select key high-quality proteins, such as wild salmon, organic eggs, grass-fed beef, tempeh or tofu to be served throughout the week. Having these items handy is a gift to the person responsible for preparing meals. Have kids with curious eyes and discerning palates? Make a soup and purée it. I make at least one every week.

Jeanne Petrucci, MS, RDN received her Master of Science degree in Nutrition Education from Columbia University and completed her supervised clinical practice at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. At Living Plate, she partners with other registered dietitians as well as culinary professionals to ensure individuals can meet their health goals. They facilitate evidence-based programming focused on changing nutrition- related health behaviors such as selecting, preparing, and cooking health-promoting foods.

You can contact Jeanne by email at [email protected] or by phone at 908-234-1160.

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