Health Coach Feature: A Conversation on Cooking, Family, and Wellness with Chef Carla Contreras
Chef Carla Contreras is professionally trained with a stacked culinary resume (yes, she was on CHOPPED! on the Food Network).
She is the founder of Cook+Chop, an online cooking school, and the host of the Cooking Is the New Healthy podcast. She is nutritious life certified and a certified holistic Health Coach, food stylist, photographer, and recipe developer for wellness brands.
It’s her mission to share the lessons she has learned that have transformed her business and her life from daily panic attacks to showing up fully in her life. She believes cooking is the highest form of self-care and wants her clients to experience that magic in their lives.
Q: What were you doing prior to enrolling at Integrative Nutrition?
A: I was a personal chef in New York City and working as a pasta maker for Daniel Boulud at DBGB. I had worked for restaurants and hotels at that point for 10 years. I was mentally and physically exhausted from the demands of 12- to 16-hour days as a chef (and the party lifestyle). I signed up for IIN with the intention of being able to cook with more nutrition knowledge for my personal chef clients, and I ended up starting a journey of personal healing and growth over the past 10 years.
Q: What led you to explore the Health Coach Training Program?
A: I met an IIN student in one of my classes during my master’s program in food management at New York University. She gave me a Health History consult while she was doing the program. I was fascinated by her work and wanted to learn more for myself. At the time, I was on the fence about becoming an RD, but I wasn’t ready to commit to another degree. I am so happy I chose IIN because of the incredible people I’ve met over the years.
Q: What modules or topics in the Health Coach Training Program resonated most with you?
A: I’ve talked to many fellow Health Coaches, and for me and others, listening to a lecture was a pivotal moment in my life. I will never forget holding that red iPod (this was 10 years ago!) at a Starbucks in the Financial District and taking notes. I sat there in awe of her words, saying that I could embrace (and use) the parts of me I thought were dark. I tell people that is the day I woke up. Whenever I need a reminder, I relisten to that lecture.
Q: As a chef and Health Coach, you know that being healthy starts at home. How do you encourage your children to eat healthily – especially since spending a majority of time at home?
A: I’ve been roasting tons of veggies and placing them on a trivet on the kitchen table to let them cool. The smell of the roasted veggies draws my kiddos to the table, and before I know it, half the tray is gone! I also know that things I photograph are more desirable for my kids to eat. My fellow chef and food stylist friends think it’s hilarious that my children love “Insta-worthy” food. If I place food on my styling surface, they are 10x more likely to try to eat the food, as opposed to placing it on their plates.
Q: You offer online classes to help people meal plan, food shop, and cook at home. How do you help others see cooking as a form of self-care as you do?
A: I believe cooking is your foundation and that the way you choose to nourish yourself affects everything you do. This is why I started Cook+Chop, my online cooking school, to teach people cooking that fits into their real lives. I love meal plans, shopping lists, and recipes, but when is the last time you cooked 21 recipes in a week? For me, it’s all about dropping the fear and perfection around cooking, figuring out what works for you, creating ease, and giving yourself grace – once you do that, everything starts to flow.
Q: The dynamic of your family has likely changed since spending most of your time at home. How has your family grown closer during this time?
A: I work at home as a recipe developer, food stylist, and photographer. I also have my online cooking school. My two kiddos, 5 and 3, have been working alongside me since they were born. They are very aware of how I work and love to get involved. I often have my kids’ hands in my Instagram feed. What’s been really interesting is to see my children create their own art during this time. We as a family spend a lot of time painting, coloring, playing with clay, and recently making origami. My kids also love taking their own “shots” on my phone. I love seeing the pictures my daughter takes of the pink clouds during sunset.
Q: Are there any “hacks” you and your family have incorporated into your routines to stay healthy, both body and mind?
A: My kids have always seen me move my body – doing Barre 3 online at home, walking, using weights. As they got older, I left to go to the gym or Pilates. A few weeks into the pandemic, I bought a Peloton. It’s been really fun to get out the kids’ yoga mats and have a dance party while I work out. As a family, we use the Kait Hurley app to meditate. I recently had Kait on my podcast, Cooking Is the New Healthy, to chat about using anxiety to work with you.
Q: How are you and your family taking advantage of the “last month” of summer?
A: Our happy place for the past few years is Windy Brow Farms, a New Jersey farm that’s about 45 minutes from our home. We’ve made it a weekly ritual to visit the farm; we feed the goats and pick up local produce and flowers. It’s such a joyous experience. I’m very grateful to be able to spend this time with my family, especially my partner, Ed, who is usually gone from around 7am to 9pm on weekdays. He’s now working part-time from home.