This month we are going to do something a little different with our column. Part of the medical nutrition approach at 3ECW is giving our clients the education they need to make healthy food choices on a day to day basis.
I recently sat down with health counselor and personal chef, Callie McMillin, to get a fresh take on her approach in the kitchen. Callie lives here in Nashville and graduated from the Integrative Institute of Nutrition and Culinary Business Academy. In 2010, Callie opened her kitchen and became a full time personal chef serving clients in the greater Nashville area.
For more information on Callie check out her website:

How do you shop for groceries?

Callie: I am a big list maker. I never shop without one. I don’t like to go in blindly because it’s really easy to get overwhelmed and sidetracked. I’ve been in there so much that I have a general idea of where everything is, but the list helps me systematically work through each section, crossing items off as I go.

I start by shopping the perimeter and will then will work my way into the middle sections for specific items like spices and that kind of thing.  It also allows me to use my time most efficiently so I can get back to being in the kitchen.

What ingredients do you always try to have on hand?

Callie: I always have a good cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil on hand. I keep onions, shallots, and garlic around for flavor. I also make a point of having a lot of different types of spices.

That way if you have something like chicken, you can really dress it up in many different ways. I also like to have things you can make dressings out of. Vinegars are great. Apple cider, red wine, balsamic; I try to keep those on hand at all times.

What’s the best way to get over the kitchen intimidation factor?

Callie: The best way to get over it is to just get in the kitchen and go for it. Start slow and then just keep doing it because cooking does get easier. When it comes to knife skills, those are the kinds of things that become easier with time and practice.

There’s nothing wrong with watching YouTube videos or getting tutorials online. There are also so many great prep tools now that make light work of once tedious tasks. A good food processor or easy chopper can be a great way to start.

I’m a perfectionist, but I make mistakes everyday. You just have to realize that this is your creative time, and if you burn one side of the chicken just don’t burn the other side. Make it something that’s your own creation and learn from everything you do.

How do you approach creating a menu?

Callie: I never really followed any of the taught formulas, but for my clients I always have something green on their plate. Some kind of salad or vegetable making up over 50% of the meal, paired with a lean protein. Vegetables are a big one for me because there is so much you can do with them. They get a bad wrap with picky eaters, but the flavor possibilities are endless.

Do you have any ingredients you try to avoid?

Callie: I try to avoid mayonnaise and cooking in leftover fatty oils such as bacon or duck fat. I try to make my own fat in the pan, whether it be a little bit of clarified butter, olive oil, or even grape seed oil. It’s a fifty fifty thing for me. Fifty percent of me knows that it’s just not a healthy way to cook, and the other fifty percent doesn’t know how it’s going to taste.

For example, if I get hickory smoked bacon from one place verses uncured bacon from another, they are going to have different salt contents and one will produce more grease than the other. As a chef I have to be in control of those flavors and textures. The best way to accomplish that is to be very deliberate with my cooking environment.

What kitchen equipment could you not live without?

Callie: A good food processor is a must. They last forever and are worth every penny in the amount of prep time they save. A good sturdy wooden cutting board is also key. Every time I have ever cut myself it has been on a flimsy plastic or mat-like cutting board, so a sturdy cutting board is a must have followed closely by a sharp knife.

It’s counterintuitive, but a sharp knife is far less dangerous than a dull knife in the kitchen. If you are scared, this is where practice comes in. A dull knife will cause the item your prepping to shift, making your fingers do more work than they need to and putting you at higher risk of cutting yourself. A seven-inch chef knife is a great place to start and will handle 99% of the work you need to do.

What is a good place to find beginner recipes?

Callie: I like the recipes. They’re pretty straight forward but really flavorful. If you are really trying to get into healthy cooking I’d check out the New Flavors for Vegetables cookbook from Williams-Sonoma. It gives you many different variations on cooking vegetables so if this is all new to you it can be a great guide.

I’d also recommend finding a good vinaigrette dressing cookbook. There are several good ones out there. Dressings are a great way to change things up, and the best part is they’re easy to make and so much better for you than the store bought.

Do you tend to shop in one place?

Callie: I bounce between three different places depending on what I am looking for. When I’m shopping for my clients I try to keep the food costs as low as possible without sacrificing quality of product.

I love Trader Joes. They have great organic fruits and vegetables, and if I can’t find it there I try Whole Foods. Most stores are carrying organic products so I can pretty much go anywhere now, but in the beginning my options were limited to the specialty grocery stores.

What are your thoughts on wild caught vs. farmed and organic produce vs.not?

Callie: I try to buy as much wild caught fish as I can. There is just a lot going on in the farm raised environment and atmosphere that we don’t know about, so I would rather have my first choice be wild caught. I don’t think that farm raised is wrong necessarily, but I will always check to see if there is a wild caught option first.

I always buy my coffee, fruit, potatoes and onions organic. I try to buy organic produce for items that tend to get heavily sprayed with pesticides, but I’m not too hung up on it because I think to some extent as a society we’ve turned it into a marketing buzz word. At the end of the day the kind of food you’re eating is more important to me than the source, so I’d say just stick to what your budget allows.

What type of food do you have the most fun cooking?

Callie: I knew this question was coming! I love Italian food. Recently I’ve been switching out pasta noodles for spirialized vegetables like zucchini or roasted spaghetti squash. I love the Italian basil, tomato, and garlic flare, so I try to be creative in that department.

If I’m making chicken parmesan I’ll skip the breading and throw some cutlets on the grill. Put that over zucchini noodles and make my own sauce to get the healthier version of it. Sometimes though that big fat piece of pizza or lasagna just tastes amazing, so I just try to find the balance. That said, I love it all!