Q&A with Culinary Nutritionist Stefanie Sacks

Q&A with Culinary Nutritionist Stefanie Sacks
November 5, 2015 pwip

Stefanie Sacks, MS, CNS, CDN is a culinary nutritionist, author, radio show host, educator, speaker and consultant. Studying food and healing for 25 years, she is a self-described ‘Culinary Nutritionist’ – a professional chef with a Masters of Science in Nutrition. Her blog, What The Fork Weekly features her Stirring the Pot™ radio show that airs on Hamptons NPR, WPPB 88.3FM and via podcast. She is the author of What the Fork Are You Eating?, a book that emphasizes making small dietary changes to create a big change in your own life, and the lives of others. We spoke with Stefanie about her book, our shared values, and some easy and delicious recipes from her book to help jumpstart the food revolution.

Tell us a little more about how small changes become part of something larger? 

All of the changes I talk about in What The Fork Are You Eating? are changes that I have made in my own life. They didn’t happen overnight, rather over the course of the past thirty years—the more I learned, the more I shifted to become the person and professional I am today. And I continue to evolve and grow every day. There were times that I bought into fads or tried to shift too many things at once—wanting that quick fix because I wanted to feel great, be healthy—but consistently those types of shifts weren’t sustainable. Eventually I smartened up and realized that any change, small or large, needed to happen in stages—setting realistic goals for myself meant success. This in turn translated to how I work with my clients and students (and how I educate my readers and listeners). There is no silver bullet and health means something different to everyone. For change to occur we must respect where we are at, what we can do, and push for shifts that are truly attainable.

To talk in more tangible terms, if you are accustomed to consuming meat daily but want to shift to a more plant based diet, even go vegetarian, do not cut meat out cold turkey (no pun intended). Set realistic goals such as:

  1. Rather than 1-2 times daily, I will cut my meat consumption to 1 time daily only for 4 weeks
  2. After 4 weeks, I will only consume meat 3-4 times per week

And so on…

A trusted client once told me many years ago, “The slower you go, the faster you get there.” Thus, it is about the small changes—while the road may seem longer, it ends up being far less circuitous and yes, even faster.

forkIf someone wants to make a change but doesn’t know where to begin, what information and advice might you give?

Some of my favorite food education resources to have at your fingertips are available in smart phone apps. They are, for packaged and whole food:

  1. Environmental Working Group’s Food Scores Database
  2. Animal Welfare Approved’s Food Labels Exposed
  3. Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen
  4. Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch

Changing your purchasing and eating habits is hard but doable. Start small and please begin with food you buy in packages (as in processed food). Pick one thing you would like to change. My favorite (and easiest) starting point for most is removing all food dye from the diet. There is enough science to doubt their true safety. And today there are so many better alternativeson the market—so it is not “giving up” rather replacing. How do you do it?

  1. Identify the foods you choose and eat that contain dyes (Red Dye #40, Yellow Dye #5 and #6)—everything from baked goods to pickles, beverages and candy
  2. Take a walk through a more “health supportive” grocer like Whole Foods to find products that resemble what you are accustomed to
  3. Do a taste test
  4. Choose what/how to replace (and know that eating the “not so good for you” is OK once in a while)

Appendix B—Common Food Brands and Recommended Alternatives in What The Fork is a great resource.

Your book combs through much of the difficult language on food labels. What are some things consumers should look out for/be aware of? 

Dialing down What The Fork is never an easy task for me but if readers can walk away with 5 tips they would be the following:

  1. A food product with too many health claims is a dead give away for food too phony for consumption (and likely not at all health supportive) so best to avoid
  2. “Natural” means nothing other than “minimally processed, no artificial ingredients.” And while the US government defines these terms as well as most of the others you see on food and food products, they don’t regulate them (other than USDA Organic). So become a skeptical shopper.
  3. The longer the ingredient list the more processed a food is; and if you can’t pronounce an ingredient, don’t buy the food
  4. Opt into a diet of fresh whole foods 70-80% of the time; if so, you are doing a GREAT job
  5. Buy local over organic anytime; supporting local food economies is critical for the recovery of our food system

As a chef and nutritionist, what can you say about how the food culture should change to help protect and preserve our planet and the future? 

The most important task at hand is delivering an authentic edible education to consumers. And in the process, honoring what people can and can’t do must take center stage. With this honest yet gentle education, shifting food choice can happen and in turn help protect and preserve our planet for the future. Yes, what we choose to eat everyday holds that much power! There is a lot of nonsense noise in the food, nutrition, health, and wellness space so while change is happening, it is also getting harder for people to know who to believe and what to believe. Thus, trusted voices (those who adhere to a high level of integrity and practice) need to rise on a national and global scale. These voices can help shift consumer thinking and demand, thus purchasing power. And with that, real change can occur.

Any favorite healthy recipes you can share? 

Some of our family and friend favorites, all from What The Fork, are:


Cheesy Bok Choy Caesar Salad

Serves 4 to 6

1 head bok choy, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon red onion, small dice

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese


  1. Combine the bok choy and onion in a large bowl and toss.
  2. Combine the olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, pepper, and 1/4 cup of the Parmesan and mix until combined either by hand or with a blender.

The dressing will still be a little chunky.

  1. Toss the dressing with the salad and garnish with the remaining ¼ cup of the Parmesan.

Stefanie’s Notes
If you can’t find bok choy, use romaine lettuce.


Cauliflower Cheese Soup

Serves 4 to 6

1 large head cauliflower, cut into chunks
4 cups water
1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste


  1. In a medium pot, combine the cauliflower, water, and onion and cook, covered, over medium heat until the cauliflower is tender, 20 to 30 minutes.
  2. Let the soup cool slightly, then place it in a blender with the cheese and 1/2 teaspoon salt and puree until smooth and creamy. Add more salt and pepper to taste.

Stefanie’s Notes
Puréeing warm soups can be a slight kitchen hazard. Take it from me.

When puréeing anything hot, to avoid a food explosion, I place a clean dish towel between the top of the blender and its lid, pressing the top down hard with my hands as I let the motor rip. For some scientific reason, this keeps the soup safely in the blender. Feel free to try this technique with any other vegetable— who doesn’t love a silky soup? Store in the fridge for up to three days or freeze for up to three months.


Zucchini Latkes
Serves 4 to 6 (12 3‑inch pancakes)

2 medium unpeeled zucchini, ends trimmed, shredded with a hand grater or food processor
1 large unpeeled Idaho potato, shredded with a hand grater or food processor
1/2 small yellow onion, small dice
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1 large egg
3 tablespoons chickpea or other flour (like wheat, spelt, oat, or rice)
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 cup grapeseed oil or other vegetable oil, for frying


  1. Combine the zucchini, potato, onion, garlic, parsley, egg, flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Mix well with wooden spoon or clean hands.
  1. Place the grapeseed oil in a medium sauté pan and preheat over medium-high heat for 5‑7 minutes. With a large slotted spoon or spatula, form 1/4-inch thick pancakes, pressing out excess liquid with hands, and ease them into the pan one at a time. Cook for 3 full minutes per side, or until medium brown and crispy. Remove from the oil and set on paper towels to drain. Repeat until done. Salt to taste if needed.


Vegetable-Smothered Halibut
Serves 4

11/2 pounds halibut fillets, 11/2 to 2 inches thick
Juice of 1 lemon, for cleaning fish
1 teaspoon salt, for cleaning fish

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 large leek, top and bottom trimmed, cut in half lengthwise and thoroughly cleaned, thinly sliced
1 small carrot, julienned
1 small yellow squash, small dice
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups shredded kale
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, loosely packed, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice


  1. Preheat the oven to 350˚F.
  2. To clean the fish, wash it with the lemon juice and salt, rinse it under cold water, and pat it dry with a paper towel. Place the whole fish fillet in a baking dish.
  3. In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, leek, carrot, squash, cumin, and salt. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring regularly.
  4. Add the kale, parsley, and lemon juice and toss, cooking for another 5 minutes.
  5. When the vegetables are done, smother the fish with the mixture and cover with foil. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes or until the internal temperature on the fish reaches 145˚

Reprinted with permission from What The Fork Are You Eating? Copyright © 2014 by Stefanie Sacks, Tarcher Books, a division of Penguin Random House

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