Ranelle is a Licensed Registered Dietitian, Certified Diabetic Educator, and Le Cordon Bleu culinary graduate with a passion for health and wellness, and a desire to help you understand yours.
She specializes in:
A story of health, nutrition, and most importantly, food
Before starting her own business as ChefRDN, LLC, she was the Food Service Director of Thorek Memorial Hospital in Chicago. While there, she counseled patients on nutrition in both in and outpatient settings. She have also worked with Rush University Medical Center in Patient Food Services as an Administrative Registered Dietitian and Supervisor. During her time at Rush, she graduated from the Morrison Internship program and later achieved a Masters of Science in Clinical Nutrition. But it all started with food: She originally graduated with an Associates degree in Culinary Arts from Le Cordon Bleu in St. Paul, Minnesota. Given her background in both cooking and dietetics, she is now enjoy teaching others how food and nutrition can improve their lives, and help them to prepare and enjoy food of any/all types, with an emphasis on eating and buying local. She became a Certified Diabetes Educator in 2018, which allows me to reach new audiences in new ways, and best serve those suffering from diabetes.
She spends her free time volunteering at locavore food and health-related events, and am an avid outdoors(wo)man. and enjoy traveling, reading, knitting, practicing yoga, bicycling, and gardening.
Mathea Ford: [00:00:26] Hi there! It’s Mathea. Welcome back to the Nutrition Experts Podcast. The podcast featuring nutrition experts who are leading the way using food starts today right now with our next guest. It’s great to have Ranelle Kirschner on the show today. Ranelle welcome to Nutrition Experts.
Ranelle Kirchner: [00:00:43] Hi! Thank you. I’m so happy to be here.
Mathea Ford: [00:00:46] I know I’m excited to have you on this show and share your expertise with my tribe. You have a very interesting story so I’d love to let you tell my listeners a little more about you and what you do.
Ranelle Kirchner: [00:00:58] Absolutely! So, I am a dietitian/chef and Certified Diabetic Educator. I have really paved this path of trying to combine the two worlds of both cooking, culinary arts and nutrition because as similar as they seem they’re two very different worlds and so I spend my passion and ambition to bring those two worlds together to better help people in terms of changing the way they live. To lead a healthier lifestyle and really show people how great food can be because there’s a lot of simple things that you can do to make it healthy.
Mathea Ford: [00:01:35] So, you mentioned that you have a culinary background and can you talk a little bit about how you chose that and where you went and then kind of where it’s led you.
Ranelle Kirchner: [00:01:45] My path is education is certainly a unique one. I went to school at the University of Minnesota to initially become a surgeon but my mind kept wandering during this time to the kitchen while I was studying. So after my first year pre-med I changed my career path left the U, started taking class at the Le Cordon Blue in Minnesota. It was amazing experience that led me to start working in France. But while I was abroad I gained a new perspective on life and in food. So, I was able to witness and live the French way of eating and living and realized that their relationship was so vastly different from where I… From what I knew and how I grew up. My views changed and I decided I wanted to be more on this path to becoming an educator. And that’s when I transitioned into the dietetic path.
Mathea Ford: [00:02:37] So you mention in France that you noticed they had a different relationship with food. What is the difference? What would you say was the difference that you found?
Ranelle Kirchner: [00:02:46] I really notice that the difference lied in the relationship with how they treated food, how they perceived food, respecting their body. When they felt full, they just stopped eating. There was no reason to forge themselves. And it was always about fresh produce and fresh foods really taking care of being ingredients as they were cooking. So, if something was in season that would be the highlight of their foods for that week or that day. It was different because it was more about them listening to their bodies and also just trying to incorporate those fresh flavors that were seasonal.
Mathea Ford: [00:03:30] So, I guess you didn’t see a lot of pre-prepared foods or processed, highly processed foods when you were there. Of course you were there for some cooking event or home schooling so that might have affected it a little bit. What was their process for getting food? I mean you said they always come fresh.
Ranelle Kirchner: [00:03:52] Right! A big emphasis was on Fresh. Even the refrigerators were much smaller and they went shopping on a weekly almost daily basis. And always just focusing on the fresh foods. And a lot of times it was just done at an open air market. Even in the middle of winter.
Mathea Ford: [00:04:15] Hmm. Yeah! That is a pretty big contrast to how we hear here huh?
Ranelle Kirchner: [00:04:18] It is! And you know everybody knew the vendors. Everybody had a relationship with who was selling their food so they knew where their food was coming from. They were able to ask questions about how it was grown and it was never about overindulgence. And price was never a factor. I think that having that good relationship with the farmers, the farmers weren’t overcharging because they knew who they were serving or one but it was a very unique experience.
Mathea Ford: [00:04:48] How would you compare that to a Farmer’s Market in the United States? Is it very similar or?
Ranelle Kirchner: [00:04:54] I think there’s a lot of similarities. But even from the different places I’ve lived in the States it does change state to state. I felt like in Chicago I didn’t feel like there was much of an opportunity for that bonding. It was more of an exchange process as where you know here in Minnesota we have so many Farmer’s Markets that I love to go to and I have a couple that I frequent a lot even in the wintertime. And the relationships I have with them I feel have been a stronger. So it’s definitely location based.
Mathea Ford: [00:05:30] Yeah! That makes sense that if you’re going to basically if you’re talking about the French people they’re going to the markets, they’re buying what’s in season, they’re using it within the next couple days. I think in the United States people feel like I really don’t have time to shop every couple of days and go to the Farmer’s Market. So do you have any thoughts on that? .
Ranelle Kirchner: [00:05:51] Yeah! You know I think that’s really important to address because we are a different society where we are more on the go. We don’t have as much vacation time or time away from work, even to enjoy our meals during the times that we’re working so when we take a lunch break. You know it’s rush, rush, rush and then back to work or eating while you’re working and that’s not healthy but it is. There are some things that you can do. So, for instance when you go to the market you can make your food last. You can you can go once a week. You can buy things that will perish faster but then balance that with foods that don’t perish as easily. So, buying things like squash in the winter time is a great example because you don’t need to squash that week or that day. You can store it for months. So I guess you could say it’s all about variety.
Mathea Ford: [00:06:48] That makes a lot of sense. Like your lettuce is going to go bad maybe three or four or five days and so you would eat that if you went to the market you would eat that earlier in the week and then maybe you’d have some squash with your meal later in the week.
Ranelle Kirchner: [00:07:04] Right. So, a lot of that comes into play with meal planning. If you are planning out your week then you’ll know which foods that you should be eating sooner rather than later in the week when you do your shopping either at the market or the grocery store and even a combination of the two.
Mathea Ford: [00:07:22] So, I want to come back to meal planning in a second but you know what made you decide to go on and become an RDN and after you had your culinary education?
Ranelle Kirchner: [00:07:32] I didn’t think anyone would listen to a chef about Nutrition and I certainly wanted to have that expertise and the evidence based in what I tell people so it was more that I felt like I needed to do my due diligence and go back to school and understand the nutritional aspect of food as well. So, I went back really for the credentials, the experience really just to make sure that I’m best helping people to my capabilities.
Mathea Ford: [00:08:02] You mentioned meal planning a couple minutes ago. How do you do your meal planning? How do you talk to your patients about or customers about meal planning?
Ranelle Kirchner: [00:08:14] Well, I use a couple different approaches because I do use a service called EatLove which is a digital platform that can tailor nutrient and these disease specific needs. So, I have that service which is great for maybe helping people get started with their own meal planning but I still try to address things that people can do for basic meal planning like keeping a pantry full of non perishables to keep it simple during the week. When you put together a menu one week at a time or cooking in batches. So, those are some tips that I use for meal planning that anyone can use so that it’s more approachable. But certainly for those who are really busy and don’t want to think about finding recipes. And they’re on the go all the time, the EatLove program and platform it is truly amazing and a lot of people find great benefit from it. There’s a lot you can do within it and it even prints out your grocery lists.
Mathea Ford: [00:09:15] So, do you have any specific tips about meal planning? You mentioned basic meal planning, cooking in batches that type of thing but when you’re talking to somebody about meal planning for maybe a week what do you encourage them to do?
Ranelle Kirchner: [00:09:31] I like to put a lot of emphasis on plant based foods in my teachings. So, really looking at Okay, where are your vegetables coming from in the week? Making sure that you’re getting those three to five servings” because a lot of people struggle getting the recommended vegetable servings in a week. So, I think focusing on one thing is a good place to start. And then gradually making changes throughout the week. Protein is typically not an issue for most people although some of my vegan patients it is. You can certainly have protein rich diet as a vegan.
Mathea Ford: [00:10:07] You really are going to encourage somebody to kind of change may be part of their meal not necessarily do the whole thing at once. But if you’re trying to move to more plant based or healthier eating your maybe changing a few things every week just building those in your process. Is that what you’re saying?
Ranelle Kirchner: [00:10:24] Absolutely! Because I think it can be overwhelming when someone comes to you and they ask you they want to make these these big changes in their life. But if you don’t do it gradually and slowly it can seem like it’s too much and that it’s unsustainable. And I want this to be sustainable and a lifelong change.
Mathea Ford: [00:10:42] So, can you talk a little bit more about your partnership with EatLove and how that works?
Ranelle Kirchner: [00:10:48] It’s a collaborative agreement where I write recipes for EatLove so you’ll see many of my recipes appear on their platform and in exchange I use the platform for my patients to essentially plan out their meals and we can start small for either maybe we emphasize dinners for that week but it has the capability of doing snacks, breakfast, lunch, dinner and you can also add on other members in the family too. So, even if it’s a meal plan that’s meant for you we can add on other people so that it is more more family friendly because let’s be honest we’re not it’s not all for ourselves. Sometimes we do want other people our loved ones to be included in the process. What it also does is I’m also able to tailor disease specifics so whether you have diabetes, if you have dietary restrictions all of that can be factored into this meal planning.
Mathea Ford: [00:11:50] So, is it all dietitians that contribute recipes or?
Ranelle Kirchner: [00:11:54] All dietitians write recipes.
Mathea Ford: [00:12:00] So, can any dietitian do that? Can they collaborate with EatLove to write recipes if they want it or to even just use the platform for their patients?
Ranelle Kirchner: [00:12:08] Dietitians can subscribe to the platform and pay a fee. I’m not sure that they’re looking for dietitians right now but if you are interested in writing recipes, I can certainly put you in touch with the correct person if you’re interested in writing recipes as a dietitian because that is what they focus on. I think it can be tricky writing the recipes because things that they look for is few ingredients that have a big emphasis on vegetables and then seasonality as well as trying to fit these different types of eating. So, right now there’s been a lot of requests for low FODMAP foods, diabetes or diabetic friendly recipes and certainly more plant based.
Mathea Ford: [00:12:58] You mentioned that you traveled to France. Do you travel doing anything else or do you I know you think you like to travel. Can you talk a little bit about that? Your learning, how you learned through your travel and how you use that in your practice?
Ranelle Kirchner: [00:13:11] Traveling has always been a big part of my life. And when I go to a new place, I really just throw myself in. So, it’s not staying in nice hotels, its trying to find the most rural parts of the country and really just engaging with the people. So, I do my best at trying to learn their language. It’s not always easy. But with the help of technology it’s become easier and really just picking my experiences based off of where I can learn the most from. “Okay well what’s going on with this culture? What what are their holidays? Am I or am I going to be there during a holiday or something that’s really important to them? What are their local foods? Where do they hang out?” And so I really try to go to those types of places and it’s all about finding those little hole in the wall restaurants and if I get sick I get sick. You know it’s a great experience for me.
Mathea Ford: [00:14:12] So, what’s the last place you went to?
Ranelle Kirchner: [00:14:14] The last place. I went to was where did I go? I was in Germany and Amsterdam. I had been to the southern part of Germany. But I went with my boyfriend to the northern half to go visit family and so we were able to go to these small little towns all throughout the northern half and really just see what people were eating. Learn some really great foods and cultural influences on you know Turkish food especially discovered a Lahmacun which is an amazing. It’s one of my favorite foods right now. It’s basically a flatbread like pizza with all these different spices. Tomato, lamb and then it has a nice then yogurt sauce with fermented cabbage and other fresh vegetables. It’s delicious. It was a really great travel as well because I was able to then meet a lot with the locals and hear about what their traditions were, how they eat. And then I’m looking forward to my next trip where I’m going to Israel this May.
Mathea Ford: [00:15:31] Okay.
Ranelle Kirchner: [00:15:31] So, it’ll be another another good food experience.
Mathea Ford: [00:15:35] Yeah! Yeah. Sounds like you really get in-depth with the culture and try to at least you try all the foods and then you can incorporate.
Ranelle Kirchner: [00:15:45] I will try everything once.
Mathea Ford: [00:15:48] I can’t say that I’m that way. If you tell me once again I’m probably going to judge. So, I’m probably decide what to do anyway.
Ranelle Kirchner: [00:15:57] And you know it’s interesting too because some of the places I’ve been, I’ve learned so much. For instance, when I was in Indonesia I spent three weeks traveling from island to island and realized how hard it was to find food. It wasn’t easy. It was first of all it was hard to travel and to find people to take me places. But once I got to a place you had to know someone in order to find a meal.
Mathea Ford: [00:16:25] Oh wow!
Ranelle Kirchner: [00:16:26] No, there weren’t restaurants. There weren’t markets. Occasionally you’d find a market on the side of the street just to pick up some fresh food. But really people were just growing food for themselves and selling it to each other. So, that was really interesting just to see that exchange. And also it was very spiritual and how big religion played a role into their culture.
Mathea Ford: [00:16:50] Yeah I just had another podcast a couple weeks ago about somebody talking about religion and how it can deeply affect someone’s choices and you need to understand it basically so you can have that basis to know if I if they’re a vegetarian because of religious reasons vs. vegetarian because of social reasons. You know it’s important to understand that that can help you do better with your education of them. So.
Ranelle Kirchner: [00:17:20] Absolutely! Absolutely.
Mathea Ford: [00:17:22] So you have this you go round you travel you learn about all these different foods and stuff and so obviously you like making recipes when you’re making a recipe or you’re looking at a recipe that you have. How do you modify it to make it healthier? What are some of the things you typically do?
Ranelle Kirchner: [00:17:39] Well because I am more plant based. I swap a lot of the animal fats for plant based fats. So, if it calls for lard which is common in many many cultures I will swap it out for maybe olive oil or a vegetable based oil maybe it’s even avocado. You know it’s really interesting because once you cook enough it’s easier to determine which things you can omit completely and then which things you can substitute or even cut half the fat out. So, it is recipe by recipe based. So, that’s one of the things to get started is really just getting in the kitchen and just cooking more, experimenting with food. So, you know what works and what doesn’t work but you have to just get started.
Mathea Ford: [00:18:31] So, when somebody is cooking in their kitchen, what are some of the things that you would say they should start with if they’re trying to change a recipe to make it a little healthier besides the fat thing and try but where should they start?
Ranelle Kirchner: [00:18:44] So, I guess it would depend. I think a good place though to start would be to look at your favorite foods. Maybe it’s Mac and Cheese. Okay? So, if we take Cac and cheese as an example let’s maybe avoid the cream and maybe we use a lower fat milk or maybe we do keep it full fat but then then look more at the portion size and then play with vegetables. So, let’s add some brussel sprouts, let’s add some kale, let’s make it healthier in that regard. Maybe even use whole wheat pasta or a bean pasta. Bean pastas are starting to become really popular and it’s great for those who are gluten intolerant.
Mathea Ford: [00:19:29] So, what do you think when you’re thinking of like ingredient that you use a lot. It seems to be just really versatile that you like to always have around what to put in recipes what what are you got anything like that?
Ranelle Kirchner: [00:19:43] Yes. The incredible edible egg. The egg is amazing. I use it. I always had eggs on hand because it’s a great source of protein. It’s affordable. You can soft boil it, poach it, fry, you can frier it, bake it. Use it in a sauce. I’m always amazed by the possibilities because you can use it for both sweet and savory as well. It can make or break a recipe because it offers that simple richness to a dish and can be a really nice finishing touch.
Mathea Ford: [00:20:19] So, egg in a dish tends to I know it’s an emulsifier, it brings things together. What other properties does it add to a dish that somebody might want that they might use it for?
Ranelle Kirchner: [00:20:31] People might use it just for its protein content but it’s an easy great ingredient to manipulate and it’s also you can have it hot, you can have it cold and I think it just offers that added fullness and roundness to a meal because if you think about when you’re cooking you try to create balance and it’s going to offer that fattiness as well as that structure to a dish so it can really make something complete.
Mathea Ford: [00:21:04] So, I know you mentioned at the beginning of the call that you were a Certified Diabetes Educator. How did you decide to go so you started cooking and then you said “Oh! I see how food and nutrition go together. So I want to be a dietitian.” What was then. How was the next step to being a Certified Diabetes Educator?
Ranelle Kirchner: [00:21:23] I was working in Chicago at the time and had just left working in Kitchen Management at Rush University Medical Center to then start running my own kitchen as a Food Service Director at a smaller hospital and because it was smaller I wore many hats and soon found myself doing outpatient care with an emphasis on diabetes because that’s what the population was. And after seeing how many people were affected by diabetes and how little resources there was available for patients, I decided that was my next move was to be… To put an emphasis on diabetes and work towards being certified so worked for a couple of years in that role. At the time I wasn’t certified but I later became certified when I moved to Minnesota but really just seeing the need for diabetic educators is really how I decided to make that change completely.
Mathea Ford: [00:22:27] So, now day to day in Minnesota what is it that you do with your patients? You do different types of classes? Do you teach them how to cook?
Ranelle Kirchner: [00:22:35] I do a little bit of everything. I teach, I certainly teach people how to cook. I offer lots of cooking classes. I cook at a couple of places actually I cook at four different sites all around food and then I also teach Nutrition classes through BlueCross BlueShield and a lot of times I get questions about how to change your diet and what can they do for cooking. So, it’s a little bit more integrated in that role. And then I’m also doing a lot with diabetes education at a place called Neighborhood Health Source which is an FQHCF (Federally Qualified Health Care Center) and then in addition to that is my telehealth business. So, I see patients online and it’s all done virtually.
Mathea Ford: [00:23:27] Yeah! It sounds like you really blended all that together where you started to where you are today you know kind of blend it all together and I know a lot of dietitians don’t love food service type things but I’m a food service dietitian. I love food service. I love recipes. I love cooking and so I love it when a dietitian blend it all together and talk about those practical things like adjusting recipes, changing the way you make choices about food. Do you have any tips for how you help people kind of get to figure out what goals they’re going to do and then how to stick to them?
Ranelle Kirchner: [00:24:04] The idea is to start small so choose one thing at a time and when you make that choice on what you want to fix then we put together a SMART goal. You know the Specific Measurable Attainable Realistic and Relevant and Time. Yes exactly. So we want to combine all those elements when we put together our goals and then slowly working towards that putting together a timeline. We want to make sure that it’s a goal that is relevant to you, achievable because otherwise then what’s the point? Is it going to be sustainable? Probably not. So, if it happens to be that you want to change something in your diet to simply add more vegetables then maybe we would start by saying “Okay, well, what do you want to do for this week? Okay? So this week maybe we look at what vegetables might be missing.” So, I tell people you know try to eat the rainbow meaning eat every color and then if there’s a color you’re missing then maybe we focus on that food group. So, purple, blue that’s often the one that’s forgotten. We want to make sure we we want to make sure we include those foods and take it from there.
Mathea Ford: [00:25:18] So, thinking about the listeners, they are dietitians, they’re health care professionals and they’re sometimes some of them are just regular people and I guess we’re all regular people. But so thinking about those people, what kind of tips would you give them to use the information we talked about today in their business and their life, in their working with patients?
Ranelle Kirchner: [00:25:43] Listen to the patients and their needs. What are they truly trying to accomplish. And is it realistic for them. Because so many times people come to me with a goal and it might not be realistic. And so working through the expectations of “okay, you come here you want help with weight loss. Let’s talk about it” because oftentimes too there’s underlying issues. So, you want to get to the root cause of why they’re doing something. And is it for them? Is it healthy? Also when you get stuck, it’s okay to reach out to other professionals and make referrals. Refer to each other. If I have a patient who comes to me and there’s clearly something that needs to be worked out with a psychologist, I’m going to make a referral because that’s not my area of expertise. And so building that network is also important so making sure that you are finding patients help that they need in other areas is vital and important to make them truly successful because that’s the point. That’s why we do this. We do this to help people and we want people to be successful.
Mathea Ford: [00:26:52] Absolutely! Those are great tips. So, the last question I always ask is right now tell me what is your favorite food? And since you’re foodie, you can pick a couple if you like.
Ranelle Kirchner: [00:27:02] Wild mushrooms are certainly one of those top favorite foods. One of my favorite dishes to make is this wild mushroom toast with melted Taleggio cheese and an easy over egg and a side green salad. It is just to die for. It is truly amazing. And I really cannot help but say that ice cream. I love my ice cream. Can be super simple vanilla is totally fine. You know I have it as my special treat but it’s just so good and creamy and rich and full.
Mathea Ford: [00:27:40] I think you have to enjoy food. I mean if it’s on third quarter it’s so not flavorful which is what people expect. They have to eat when they eat healthy. Then that’s that’s no good. You know.
Ranelle Kirchner: [00:27:53] Exactly! You have to live life. And food is part of that. So you should love the foods that you eat. It’s just all about respecting your body and the food as well.
Mathea Ford: [00:28:05] So, where do you find wild mushrooms? Do you go to a farmer’s market or do you find them in a store?
Ranelle Kirchner: [00:28:10] I do. I I often go to this place. It just opened up down the street from where I live called the Keg and Case and they have a vertical mushroom farm and so they grow all mushrooms on site. It’s pretty amazing. But the Farmer’s Markets also have great wild mushrooms that I like to go to. A little bit harder to find in the wintertime. So, during the winter I’ll certainly just walk down the street.
Mathea Ford: [00:28:37] All right. Ranelle, thank you so much for being on the podcast today. It was a pleasure to have you on the show. I know my listeners learned a lot about food, recipes, how you cook and how basically you can enjoy food. So, if listeners want to connect with you what’s the best way to do that?
Ranelle Kirchner: [00:28:52] Sure. They can go to my website at ranellekirchner.com that’s R A N E L L E K I R C H N E R dot com and you can also find me on social media LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram. I’d be happy to answer any questions and I really appreciate taking the time your time to be on the podcast. Thank you.
Mathea Ford: [00:29:19] Thank you so much. Well, guys this has been another great episode of the Nutrition Experts Podcast. The podcast is all about learning more so you can do more with nutrition in your life.