01/11/2013 10:11 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 10:52 GMT

Combining a Love of Food and Food Education

Story by: Donna Castellano

I'm a firm believer that if you work hard and really listen carefully to that inner voice inside of you, life will take you where you need to go.

I've always had an appreciation for good food and a belief that if you take care of your body, it will take care of you. It's what led me to a post-graduate degree in clinical nutrition and to become a registered dietitian. I grew up eating home cooked meals and treasured how it brought our family together.

Once married, my husband and I traveled often to Italy. I was totally captivated with the remarkable passion Italians had for food, and you tasted it in every bite! It was what kept us going back year after year. Those experiences influenced me and the way I think about food to this day. It is also why I find the state of food culture and the statistics of obesity and poor health in America so alarming.

It wasn't until after the births of my son and daughter that I became increasingly aware of how difficult it was to teach children how to eat healthy in a very unhealthy world of processed, sugar laden and artificially coloured foods. I was becoming even more aware of how challenging it was to find enough time to prepare healthy meals and snacks with our busy family schedule. An appreciation and love of food could only get us so far.

While shopping in supermarkets and reading labels, I found there was little on the shelves that hadn't been processed or chemically altered with dangerous food additives and I wasn't willing to feed that to my family. I already had the clinical knowledge, but I knew what I needed to do...start beefing up my cooking skills!

Over the years and with much trial and error, I learned to cook dishes that were not only fresh and delicious but healthy and quick. I started to become interested in gardens, herbs, kitchen utensils and gadgets. I collected more cookbooks than I had shelves for and my DVR was filled with more Food Network episodes then I would have time to watch! A real passion for cooking had emerged within myself and I became able to express my love of food and passion for good health better than I ever had before!

Inspiring and Educating About the Power of Food

Once my children entered elementary school, it was disturbing to me how much sugar and junk food was available in the home and at school. I was amazed at how little was being done to educate children about food despite skyrocketing rates of childhood obesity. Then one night I came across Jamie Oliver's TED talk ( and at the very moment the presentation was over, I knew I found my calling. Combining my passion for nutrition education with my knowledge and love of cooking, I hoped to inspire and educate people about the power of real food.

Since that time, I've discovered the wonderful community of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution and have since become a Food Revolution Ambassador for New Jersey. Last year I founded and chaired the Wellness Committee at my children's elementary school. We've made improvements in our nutrition policies for school parties and birthdays. With the help of local gardeners, we built a beautiful organic vegetable garden and began incorporating the garden into math, science and nutrition lessons. At the end of the school year, teachers, staff and students celebrated by harvesting and tasting the vegetables that were planted this spring!

This summer I hosted a "Plant & Play" evening for our school community where parents and children helped harvest vegetables and plant pumpkins. It was a wonderful way to come together as a community to work towards the ultimate goal of food education and appreciation.

About the author: Donna Castellano has a Master's Degree in Clinical Nutrition from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and is a Registered Dietitian in a private practice. Follow her at: for recipes, JOFR updates and for professional nutrition services.