The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

In the Kitchen with Michelle Dudash

In the Kitchen with Michelle Dudash

In the Kitchen

February 24, 2013


Michelle Dudash, RD, is an award-winning registered dietitian, recipe developer, and author of Clean Eating for Busy Families. Her unique perspective as both a chef and nutritionist has helped her bridge the gap between consumers, health professionals and the food industry. We talked to Michelle about the challenges millions of families face every night as they struggle to put a healthy meal on the table in minutes.

What is the main focus of your cooking?

I’m all about clean eating, which means enjoying foods in their least processed state. I strive to feature fruits and vegetables in almost all of my dishes. I rely on whole grains, expeller-pressed oils, raw sweeteners and plenty of herbs and spices to amp up the flavor while relying on less salt.

And since I’m a busy working mom, my cooking is streamlined and unfussy. Most of my recipes take just 30 minutes or less of active prep time.

How does being a female chef and cookbook author affect your culinary goals and choices?

Being female and a mom, my following is heavily skewed female, which I love. It affords me the opportunity to write about the things I go through in my own life and I can really think through the eyes of my audience. Since my book is geared towards busy families, it especially attracts women, who tend to be the grocery shoppers and meal planners.

Is there a particular nutritional focus of your menus?

When I develop recipes and menus, I don’t think as much about nutrition as I do about food groups and harvest seasons. I build recipes around flavors, colors and textures and use whole foods, so the nutritionals pretty much work themselves out. Sometimes though, if I think, “Ooh, this could use a tad more salt,” and the sodium content is nearing what I think is high (say, 700 mg) I decide not to add more salt.

Are you incorporating locally grown foods into your dishes? How?

Absolutely. I’m always thinking about the seasons when developing recipes, and not just fruits and vegetables, but also seafood. In-season foods taste better and look better, and are typically friendlier on the environment. In my book Clean Eating for Busy Families, I include sidebars throughout the book that provide substitutions for ingredients when they’re out of season. For example, when domestic tomatoes for pico de gallo are hard to come by in January, I suggest using oranges or grapefruit, instead.

And while everyone isn’t ready to commit to a trip to the farmers market, I urge people to read the signs on produce to see where it is grown. The closer to home, the better.

What steps do you take toward conservation in your meal planning?

I really try to use up the entire unit of a certain food so uncommon ingredient leftovers don’t go to waste, such as canned tomato products, broth and fruits and vegetables. Or if it is impossible to use it all in a recipe, I provide suggestions on what to do with it, like freezing it or using in salad. Even wine! Take that last glass of wine left in the bottle and refrigerate it in a small jar for later use in a sauce or marinade.

What are the major concerns today of your female readers today? And how are you addressing them?

My female readers are short on time and often short on patience in the kitchen. They want simple, streamlined recipes that use easy-to-find ingredients. They also want to be able to provide one meal that the whole family will eat, instead of having to make two or even three different meals for one sitting. I listened to moms and really tried to meet all of their needs with my cookbook.

How has the role of women in the food industry changed over the last two decades? Where do you see it going in the future?

It seems that the sky is the limit. There seem to be more female chefs and restaurant owners. It’s not uncommon to see female sommeliers in fine dining restaurants. When I cooked in a five-star restaurant, it was largely men in both the back and front of house. Most of the food and beverage directors and head chefs in large operations are men. Taking care of a family and working late nights and weekends can be a tough gig for anyone, especially someone with a family. Some women are able to make it work for them, others create their own path, which is what I did with my communications and consulting firm.

There are a proliferation of cooking shows starring women, which is fabulous, since the exposure is so large and the public sees that. Hopefully it is helping build a whole new crop of female chefs.

And with the help of human resource departments, things seem to be more politically correct in terms of male and female relations. Occurrences that were commonplace years ago just aren’t acceptable in today’s workplace, which shows that we are progressing. Thank goodness.