A few months ago, some intriguing photos in my Instagram feed caught my eye: brightly colored fruit, hovering in mid-air. Turns out the face behind these artful photographs is Carlene Thomas, a registered dietitian nutritionist and author of the blog Healthfully Ever After. Carlene’s goal is to make people interested in beautiful food — and then realize it happens to be healthy. (Secret: we are too!) No surprise, we got along swimmingly, and I knew we had to have her featured in our Healthy & Whole series. To us, a playful and creative approach is KEY to making healthy eating stick, since who wants eating to be a chore? Though Carlene is a trained health professional, she mentioned to me that she’s “not about bashing nutrition 101 into someone because I’m a dietitian.” We love this approach and are honored to have Carlene share about how that beautiful fruit, and her approach, came to be. Check Carlene out on Twitter or Instagram (check out the Instagram tag #floatingfruit).
Photo credit: Carlene Thomas
I’m a type-A, non-creative, list maker by training. To be specific, as a dietitian nutritionist I endured years of chemistry labs and even some body dissecting and I can’t lie…somewhere in there I lost a bit of my passion for food that brought me to that career in the first place (probably in the cadaver lab). When food is your job and crunching numbers for nutrient analysis or measuring recipes to the gram is what you do, you can really start to fall out of love amidst the tedium. And for a while food and health had become just a job and it started to really take on that negative tone for something that I was passionate about. I was so stressed and so focused on keeping my head above water from a business perspective that I had lost touch with that fire.
I can very clearly remember one day someone I love told me how lucky I was to do this as my work: to play with food. Which really made me feel like a big jerk for acting the way I had…because it definitely wasn’t always that way. Growing up, my best memories were all about food. From my Dad making pancakes in specific colors and shapes (we’re talking botanically accurate flowers and your name on a skillet) to my Grandma taking us on walks in the woods to pick berries for ice cream after dinner. And here I was, years later being a total pain-in-the-you-know-what because I had made it into a no-fun grind with excessive pressure. I had lost my sense of wonder and my ability to enjoy and play with a medium that used to make me so happy.
Things started to change when I decided to surround myself with people who were passionate about what they did in their lives. People who showed me that having a sense of wonder and continuing to learn and explore was an essential part of growth and happiness. The best example of that for me is my husband: the ultimate creative. He can look at a room and describe four hundred ways to decorate it and then go build a custom chair out of a car windshield. Or look at a color and exactly tell you what that color is supposed to feel like and a story behind that color’s development whereas I would look at that color and say “It’s like a cucumber and a lemon had a child but less green. It’s basically green. Why are we doing this?”. Which was precisely my problem. Unless something was on the task list with a specific goal, my type-A brain didn’t see the purpose in participating in play or creativity.
When the husband pushed me to start to be creative with food with a purpose (which I added to my to-do list), things really clicked. The idea of looking at food differently in a fun, playful and thought provoking way can keep that fire burning. A level of connection with food can be lost when the consumer focus is calorie counts or conversely double bacon cheeseburgers. Having food be playful and visually stimulating is good for everyone! Because in reality, my job is making healthy food look (and taste) amazing in an effort to play temptress to those more nutritious options. Broccoli is not that sexy, guys, but I do my best to help people appreciate it and sometimes that means thinking outside the box. My true goal is for someone to say, “That looks amazing/delicious/beautiful” rather than “That looks healthy”.
That’s how the floating produce series and food squares were born on Instagram. Part of keeping your passion for food and health is to not take it all so seriously all the time. To not make it so analytical. Be playful! And if you’re a list maker and scheduler (like some people I know) make sure to set aside time to make it happen. Here are some starter goals and tasks to get you to be creative:
5 Ways To Be Creative With Food Today
- Buy one new piece of seasonal produce. Find a way to eat it (because you can buy it and use it as decor, but that’s not the point).
- Pull three things out of your pantry or fridge (Chopped-style) and see if you can find a way to make them work together for dinner.
- Buy a new spice.
- Style and photograph an entire grouping of monochromatic food.
- Make a cocktail out of something that typically shouldn’t be. I’ve had mushroom cocktails before. Truly.
About the Authors
Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.
Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.