Brynn McDowell is a registered dietitian, a stay at home mom, and the creative genius behind The Domestic Dietitian blog!
After earning her degree in Nutrition and Food Science, Brynn completed her boards to become a registered dietitian. She then practiced in a variety of settings — health clubs, hospitals, schools, and retirement communities — gaining experience and deepening her love for nutritional medicine.
In 2013, when her daughter was born, Brynn decided to dedicate her attentions on her family and became a stay at home mom. But her passion for helping others achieve true health through a healthy diet remained as strong as ever!
So, she created her website and blog to share her family’s stories, her healthy Mediterranean-style recipes, and her hopeful message about cultivating a positive, healthy relationship with food!
Here, Brynn McDowell answers all our questions about her journey into nutrition, the benefits of a Mediterranean style diet, practical ways to make healthy eating for the family fun and effective, and healthy changes she wishes we would all make!
This is part of Nutrishatives’ Ask an Expert Series where we chat with movers and shakers in health, wellness, nutrition, and medicine about their careers, their current work, and their expert opinions on… well… their area of expertise!
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We’re always really interested in how nutrition professionals’ backgrounds led them to a career in these fields! Could you tell us a little bit about your personal history with food and nutrition and how you became interested in pursuing a career as a dietitian?
When I first started college, I was sure I wanted to go into Psychology (a popular major choice for most entry-level college students in my opinion). But then that changed a total of four more times! Needless to say, I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do once I “grew up”.
During my sophomore year at college, part of the general education requirement led me to a Nutrition 101 class and I fell in love. I loved the science part of it and the practicality of it. And it was so interesting and exciting to me.
The school I was at didn’t offer Nutrition as a degree. So, I transferred schools and graduated with a degree in Nutrition & Food Science. Then I completed my dietetic internship, passed my exam, and became a Registered Dietitian Nutrition.
Thank goodness for general education requirements!
You promote a healthy Mediterranean-style diet, which we are definitely fans of! Could you tell us about what drew you to this style of eating? Did you hear about it during your studies or were you introduced to it first when you lived in southern Europe? Why do you prefer the Mediterranean diet to other popular dietary patterns?
I first discovered the beauty of the Mediterranean diet while visiting Italy, France, and Greece with my husband. Not only was the food amazing in every single area we traveled to but what drew me in was the freshness of the ingredients, the celebration of mealtimes, the passion for ingredients, and the tradition that is brought to so many dishes.
People in the Mediterranean love food and I find that so refreshing. Especially when I compare it to the culture here in the USA that revolves more around eating to maintain weight.
I prefer the Mediterranean diet to other dietary patterns because it’s all about adding healthy, vibrant, fresh ingredients and flavors to meals rather than restricting food groups. Instead of thinking about foods to eliminate, this lifestyle is more about celebrating and enjoying more healthy options on a daily basis.
Browsing the mouth-watering recipes on your blog it’s hard not to be struck by how varied the dishes are! How do you come up with recipe ideas? What are your favorite sources of recipe-inspiration?
Many recipes are created based on recipes I ate growing up, just with a more Mediterranean twist put on them. I also love when you have a great dish while traveling or a restaurant and then going home to create my own version.
All of the dishes I share are ones that I make at home for breakfast, lunch or dinner. So, my family is my trial-and-error test panel.
I also get recipe inspiration from magazines, Pinterest, and my love for food network.
This may be a “gimme” question or kind of mean of us, depending on if you have one or not! But, just out of curiosity, among all the recipes you’ve created, do you have an absolute favorite? If so, which one is it and why do you like that particular recipe?
Oooh, this is a tough one!
If I had to choose just one, I would have to say my Whipped Feta Cheese Dip. It’s simple to make and pairs feta cheese (one of my forever favorites) with fresh herbs and spices. It’s all whipped up and creates the best dip.
I make it all the time to eat on crackers, with veggies, or pita bread.
In addition to running your awesome blog, you’re also a stay-at-home mom to two young children! What has your experience been like getting your little ones to eat healthy Mediterranean style meals and snacks? Do you have any tips for parents with young children on how to get their kids (even the picky ones!) to eat more healthy foods?
Just like with most kids, their preferences vary day-to-day. Sometimes it goes great and they love what we have. Other days they look at you like you told them, “We are having garbage for dinner.”
I love that the Mediterranean diet isn’t a set in stone kind of diet because you can easily make it work for you and your life.
We made small changes with the kids in the beginning. For example, we:
- tried switching to Greek yogurt from “traditional”
- tried out different vegetables to find out what they liked
- started offering fresh fruit at most meals, etc.
My biggest tip for parents with young children is to always pair a new recipe or food with something you know that your kids like. For example, I served zucchini recently and I wasn’t sure if my kids would like it. So, I made sure to serve carrots, too, (prepared the same way I made the zucchini) because I know they like those.
I also try not to celebrate when they like a food because next week they probably will change their mind.
And I would also suggest not giving up on a certain food if it didn’t go over well the first time. Try preparing it a different way or give it some time and try again. Tastes change so often, it’s important to keep trying.
If any of our readers are interested in transitioning their family to a Mediterranean-style diet, how do you recommend they start? What is the very first step they should take? Do you have any resources you would recommend they check out to help make the transition smoother for them?
The first step has to be to discuss it with the family, get everyone on board, and do it together. Changes are hard, especially to routines and eating.
So, if someone isn’t on board or even aware of upcoming changes it could be more difficult. The more that everyone is excited about the lifestyle and involved in the decision-making process, the more success you’ll have.
My kids love looking through cookbooks for recipes or picking out new vegetables to try at the store. Making it fun and an activity to do together will help create a positive experience.
Some of my favorite books/cookbooks about the Mediterranean diet include:
- Mediterranean Table by Prevention
- 30 Minute Mediterranean Cookbook by Deanna Segrave-Daly and Serena Ball
Both are filled with great info and tons of delicious recipes.
If you love science and health information (plus amazing recipes) The MIND Diet by Chef Julie Andrews is fantastic.
In your experience as a registered dietitian, what’s the biggest mistake you see people making when they first start trying to eat a healthier diet?
I think the biggest mistake is that you have to change everything about your diet (and life) all at one time. That just leads to setting yourself up for failure.
Small changes are perfectly acceptable and oftentimes an easier way to make permanent lifestyle changes.
What one misconception about eating a Mediterranean diet (and/or healthy eating, in general) do you wish you could erase from the world’s beliefs?
That there is just one way for people to eat or a single diet that everyone should follow. Every person is so uniquely different and we all have different likes, preferences, eating patterns, mealtimes, methods of preparing foods, etc. It would be impossible to say, “This is how we all should eat.”
I think the Mediterranean diet is a great example of how to individualize a lifestyle to fit into your reality. No single country within the Mediterranean region follows the exact same way of eating. (For example, the food in France is different than the food in Italy, which is different than the food in Greece, etc.). But they all have similar things in common which make up the Mediterranean diet.
If you could get everyone in the world to make a single healthy lifestyle change, what would it be and why?
Eat more vegetables.
There are so many amazing vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and compounds in vegetables that have so many health benefits. But most people are severely lacking in their vegetable intake.
I think adding vegetables to most meals on a daily basis would also help people appreciate all the fresh flavors that are available to us.
What impact would you like to have on the world?
I would love to help people fall in love with food again.
We’ve become so “wellness” obsessed. We are always searching for that magic ingredient (i.e. açaí, kale, cauliflower, coconut oil). Then we add it to anything and everything as an “end-all-be-all” to health.
Instead, I would truly love to get people back to falling in love with food. The fun of sharing a great meal with friends, the joy of cooking, and celebrating fresh, healthy ingredients as a way of life.
Moving away from the feeling that you have to eliminate foods from your diet to be healthy or that any single food is good vs bad.
What one question have you never been asked in an interview that you have always wanted the opportunity to answer?
This is an awesome question!
My question would be: What is something you hope to see come back in terms of food?
My answer would be: I wish people would still share recipes on little index cards.
I have some of my grandmother’s handwritten recipe cards and they are cherished! I know it isn’t practical in this day and age of emailing and Pinterest recipes. (Heck, my own blog probably wouldn’t even exist if that hadn’t changed!)
But I miss passing down family recipes via index cards. Even though half the ingredients are smudged out from many many uses and some of the instructions are missing, they make me nostalgic.
Interested in learning more about Brynn McDowell’s healthy Mediterranean lifestyle? Check out her website to connect with her and keep up-to-date on her blog!