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Chef Q&A: Marilyn Waxman of Nourishing Well


Can food that is good for you also taste great? Of course it can if it is prepared by Main Line chef Marilyn Waxman of The Nourishing Well. Get ready for fall with a series of hands-on classes that focus on organic, sustainable and healthy cooking. Learn how to incorporate nutrient-rich foods like millet, lentils and kale into your recipes. Eating your greens never tasted so good!

Main Course: You were one of the pioneers of the health, wellness and organic food movement in the Philadelphia area back in the 1970s. How did you get involved and why?

Marilyn Waxman: Starting at a young age and into my teens, I suffered from a number of illnesses. I began to think that my diet and lifestyle had something to do with the issues I was having. In my freshman year of college in the early 70s, I discovered macrobiotics—which at that time combined meditative practices, which helped me develop a better outlook on life, along with eating healthfully.

I was introduced to macrobiotics through a few of my professors at college along with the guys who owed Essene Natural Foods. Essene was the only place to shop for healthy foods in the 70s. I began to experience a wonderful state of health I hadn’t experienced previously in my life. One of the owners, Howard, became my husband and, while we were married, we were active in teaching the macrobiotic diet and lifestyle. I was excited about the health and well being I now experienced and wanted to share it with others.

We had five children together, who were all very healthy growing up. Many people thought a macrobiotic diet was not good, and all too often it was, and continues to be, practiced with a narrow-minded rigidity that was definitely unhealthy. The vitality and health of my children was proof to me of what a healthful diet it can be when done properly.

While I no longer practice macrobiotics (I’m more of an omnivore now), many of the principles I learned from my years studying and teaching it remain with me today such as eating a primarily plant based diet, eating plenty of freshly prepared foods, eating in season and eating locally. We were talking about all that stuff, which is now so trendy, 40 years ago!

As a busy mom of three kids, our family is always eating on the go—often quick, easy to prepare, processed foods. What is one change our family can make to create a healthier lifestyle?

I get it! I raised five children and boy, do I know busy. When life is so hectic, the thought of making big changes is overwhelming. We have to start with small and easy steps but I think it’s also good to have a long-range plan: “this is where I start—this is where I want to get to.”

Knowing that it’s not a good thing to have so many processed foods in your and your growing children’s diet is a good start. Now how do you get away from all the processed foods? How are you going to accomplish that goal? What kind of support do you need to achieve that goal? Develop a game plan and find the support—through parenting groups, cooking classes, family and friends.

I think one of the best places to start is to figure out how to have family dinnertime of home cooked meals, even if it’s only one evening a week in the beginning. Dinnertime is so much more than just dinner. It’s a time for conversation, relaxation and joy. Believe me, I know this isn’t easy—that’s one of the reasons people hire me to cook for them.

Speaking of my children, I have one very picky eater. Do you have any tips or tricks to introduce new foods to kids who only want to eat a strict diet of chicken nuggets, pizza and plain pasta?

Getting kids in the kitchen to help with cooking is one of the best ways to get them interested in eating new (and healthy) foods. Have some cooking magazines on hand. Look through them with the kids and have them pick something that they can help make without frustration and make it together.

You cook with a wide variety of healthy, organic and nutritionally dense foods. What do you think is the most underrated or underutilized food that we should all be adding to our diets?

Vegetables! Even though eating healthfully is trendy now, most people are still not eating enough vegetables. I know, that’s not one food, but rather it is a very underutilized food group.

I also think beans are underutilized. People tend to be afraid of them due to digestive issues. They are a great source of protein and many other nutrients and if they are cooked properly and you eat them regularly the digestive issues will generally not be an issue.

You offer cooking classes at The Nourishing Well. What can participants expect when attending?

I offer both hands-on and demonstration-style classes.The class size is always kept small to provide personalized attention. This allows plenty of time for questions and for getting to know the other participants a bit. Some long-time friendships have developed with people who have been regular students here. I love it when that happens!

Healthy food has a bad rap and many people think it’s not delicious. That is in no way true. As we say at The Nourishing Well, “food that creates health should be delicious!” In my classes participants are often introduced to new foods they would never have tried before and are delighted to find out just how delicious healthy food is.

Most of my classes are vegetarian or vegan and gluten-free. I am none of those. I’m one of those flexitarians. But, since I feel strongly about eating a plant-based diet and since so many people need to eat a gluten-free diet these days, I keep most of my classes within these guidelines.

It’s interesting to note that many of my students are not vegetarian and don’t necessarily need to eat a gluten-free diet, but like me, they value eating a plant-based diet. When I am making dishes in classes that are delicious with either meat or poultry, I explain how those ingredients can be incorporated into the dish. This has proven helpful to many families where one person is vegetarian, one person eats poultry and/or meat and someone else is gluten-free. People learn how to make a basic dish that can be created in multiple variations to keep everyone happy.

One of the best things about the classes—they are fun and lively and there’s always plenty of food to taste.

The Nourishing Well also can provide private chef services. What types of foods do you prepare for clients and how can readers access this unique resource?

As a personal chef, I am client-led. By this I mean whatever type of diet my client follows, I can cook for them. I cook for Paleo, vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, and macrobiotic clients and for those who eat just about anything. I can create foods that are hot and spicy and foods that are simple and plain.

The reason I’m able to do all these different types of diets is that at some point in my life I have followed all of them, experimenting with them to see how I felt when I followed the diet.

Some of my clients have had some serious health concerns and are on very restricted diets. My goal for these clients is to create delicious food for them so that they will be satisfied as best as can be on their restricted diets.

I have cooked for people with various types of cancer, ulcerative colitis and Crohns, diverticulitis, after a bone marrow transplant, gestational diabetes, heart conditions and for elderly clients who need all pureed foods and want them to be tasty! One of my favorite things to do is cook for women after they give birth. This is such a crucial time for a woman to rest and take care of herself and it’s a great time to have someone cook for you.

The one thread that continues through all of my cooking is that it is always organic, locally sourced as much as possible. Quality of ingredients and food preparation is essential if we are to have quality in our health and life.

Can you share a recipe for something that is both nutritious and delicious?

I have many recipes on my website. Since we’re talking about kids a lot here, the herb-crusted zucchini is a favorite for some of the families I’ve cooked for. It is delicious either baked or pan-fried and a great way to get the kids to eat some zucchini. This also works well with yellow summer squash and pattypan squash.

Ready to get healthy with The Nourishing Well? Register for classes or find out about personal chef services by calling Marilyn at (610) 853-2050 or emailing info@thenourishingwell.com. Classes range in price from $45–$75 and are expected to sell-out so snag your spot soon!

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