New Year’s resolutions have kicked into overdrive and getting healthy is always on the to-do list, especially after that 137th cookie that might not have been the best choice — but it was a delicious one. However, it’s not nearly as impossible to erase holiday eating if you opt for a healthy lifestyle instead of some fad diet. For a little assistance, Allison Montanaro, the Healthy Eating Specialist of Whole Foods Market, Jenkintown shared her tips with The Town Dish’s Jim Breslin. This is one interview you can definitely take seconds and even thirds of. Plus, you’ll want to hear Allison’s unique idea for limiting your cookie intake.
Jim Breslin: So tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been at Whole Foods Market.
Allison Montanaro: Sure. I have been the Healthy Eating Specialist of Whole Foods in Jenkintown for just over a year. My background is in Marketing but I love to eat healthy and I love to cook so it’s really a perfect fit for me.
J: Now on a day to day basis, what are some of the things you do in the store?
A: Well, no two days are ever the same when you work in a grocery store but we do a lot of healthy eating education. I’m responsible for all of that at the store, both for team members and for customers. I teach cooking classes. We do tons of community outreach so we work with schools. We have kids come in and do school tours, plant community gardens and try to get everyone involved from a young age because we believe that’s when healthy eating really takes off. We also do cooking classes and special consultations for area hospitals. I also run free consultations in the store for anyone who’s interested in making a dietary change. So there is lots going on at all times.
J: From Thanksgiving to Christmas it’s probably the toughest time to stay true to healthy eating. Now that we’re reaching the end of it, many people are ready to take a break. What advice do you have for those people looking to make a yearly resolution to eat better?
A: Definitely. It is the hardest time of the year. You’re faced with so many delicious holiday treats and I think so many people think they’re just going to run through the holidays and then start fresh. At Whole Foods Market in Jenkintown, we take into consideration that you want a healthy lifestyle and not just a fad diet to do in January. We take into consideration what is a healthy way of living that is also sustainable. One of the ways that we do that is through our “Health Starts Here” program at the store. This is what we deem a healthy lifestyle. It’s a lot of plant based foods, nutrient dense, and we cut out sodium and extracted oils. It’s really a sustainable way of living with natural plant based foods, just in their real state. We also just got a line of Engine 2 products. It’s created by our health partner Rip Esselstyn, who’s the author of The Engine 2 Diet. That includes things like oil free hummus and tortillas, there’s salsa and a whole line of cereals because that’s a very difficult part—for people to find a cereal that’s not filled with sugar. So we have a ton of healthy products throughout the store to help you maintain this healthy lifestyle.
J: Now you mentioned you do a lot of work with kids. Any special advice for kids to start trading in cookies for carrots?
A: Sure. The first step is really offering things to your children. If you don’t offer it they really have no chance of trying it. Even if they decide they hate carrots one day, you know the next day and the next day keep offering different things because kids change and their tastes change. At Whole Food Markets in Jenkintown we really focus on making all these healthy options available for kids. We give them an opportunity to go through the store and pick out fruits and vegetables they want to try—things they’ve never even seen before. Get them cooking with you in the kitchen, planting a garden. If kids see where their food comes from they are much more apt to eat it.
J: Right. So throughout the holidays, is there a signature dish that you have on your table or do you hit a favorite restaurant?
A: We do a lot of cooking ourselves, personally. There is a big popular dish I know of which is black eyed peas and collard greens. That definitely symbolizes fortune and good health for the New Year. We have awesome recipes on our website at wholefoodsmarket.com. There are a ton of recipes.
J: So how about snack food wise? We all like hummus but then you hear it has a lot of calories. Are there any good snack foods or dipping sauces that you recommend?
A: One of the things we try and explain to people at Whole Foods is don’t be afraid of calories. You definitely want to keep an eye on them but when you’re eating something like garbanzo beans that are high in fat and calories, but also really, really good for you, that’s way better than eating a bag of potato chips that’s also high in calories. You want to choose foods that are really nutrient dense so even if they are high in calories, the more nutrients that it has, the better it’s going to be for you. We have a lot of recipes for dips—things made with silk and tofu, lots of spices and lemon juice [on the Whole Food website]. We do salsas. They are a really great low calorie option that can be used as a dip or a dressing. You should really make sure that whatever you are choosing should not only taste good but it supports your healthy lifestyle. There are a ton of dip and appetizer recipes on the website as well.
J: So you have these cooking classes in the store. If somebody is interested, do they just go onto the website and sign up?
A: Yep! All of our cooking classes are free except for the Supper Club, which happens once a month and we do a full tasting menu of our health foods but it’s still only seven dollars. Everything else in Jenkintown is, for the most part, free. We do a TON of cooking classes so those interested can check out Jenkintown’s website or our Facebook page. We have a really active Facebook page full of good stuff.
J: Now not many people know that Whole Foods Market actually caters. Can you tell us more about that?
A: We do! We have a fantastic catering department. They make beautiful trays. We do a lot around the holidays but really it’s year round that you can order something. They work with you so even if it’s something you don’t see on the menu, you can explain what you’re looking for. A lot of that information is on our website as well. It’s great when it comes from Whole Foods Market because you know it’s free of artificial ingredients and will have no hydrogenated fats. It’s really a high quality food that they’re making.
J: Now I have to ask you, what food is your guilty pleasure?
J: That’s a good idea.
A: Yeah, it creates a little barrier there.
Photographs courtesy of Whole Foods Market.