Talking National Nutrition Month with Chef Mary Johnson

March is National Nutrition Month, which is a nutrition education and information campaign, focusing on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits.

So, we reached out to some of our talented and experienced chefs and asked them to share their advice for making healthy food choices this month and beyond. Today’s chef is Chef Mary Johnson.

Chef Johnson is an executive chef, overseeing hot production, grade manger and the bakery at the Demske Culinary Support Center, where all centralized production for campus takes place. Gingerbread houses and fruit carvings are her hobby.

Q: Tell me a little about yourself and your background in dining.

I am from Louisiana and have a passion for cooking and renovating. I am a mother of seven and after having the privilege of being a stay at home mom for 32 years, I returned to school and graduated from Cincinnati State with a culinary degree. I’ve been with Miami University for 11 years.

My experience at Miami has been challenging, rewarding, and fulfilling. I began as a senior cook, was quickly promoted to food production leader, and then chef. I am now an executive chef. I have worked in dining halls, restaurants, and hot production at the Demske Culinary Support Center (DCSC).

Gingerbread houses and fruit carvings are my hobby. I have recreated, in gingerbread, many of the buildings on campus including Lewis Place, McGuffey, Old Main, Upham Hall, and more. I have done many fruit carvings for different events at the president’s home, dining halls, and NACUF’s competitions.

Q: Tell me what you do here at Miami, the different tasks you are responsible for and what role you play in our dining services as a whole.

I am the executive chef at DCSC. Currently my responsibilities include oversight of hot production, garde manger and the bakery at DCSC, where all centralized production for campus takes place. My day-to-day duties include monitoring all activity between the three units, handling issues that develop during the day, notifying the units if products will be late, if substitutions will be made, and clarifying any discrepancies in orders. My most important role is to make sure all our customers get quality products, correctly, and on time. If at any time this does not happen, it is my responsibility to make the necessary corrections are made with as little inconvenience to the customer as possible.

I have input into menu choices, setting rotations for hot production’s soups and sauces, garde manger’s Uncle Phil’s Express items, and the desserts and pastries from the bakery. I also consult with different staff on event menus, providing information as to what my departments can provide. The bakery provides all the cakes, cookies, and specialty items for the “Me to You” program, and provides input on holiday promotions as well.

Q: The theme for National Nutrition Month this year is “Put Your Best Fork Forward” to emphasize that each of us holds the tool to make healthier food choices. What does this theme mean to you and in what ways do you believe people can make healthy changes to their diets during National Nutrition Month and beyond?

I think “Put Your Best Fork Forward” means that every bite counts and that taking small steps to changing our eating habits can be positive steps to, hopefully, lifetime changes. I think the key to success is finding a variety of healthy foods you enjoy. It is easy when you love what you eat. The MyPlate guidelines suggest half your plate should be filled with vegetables and fruits (adding slightly more veggies than fruits) and the other half should be filled with grains and proteins. Of course, color is key, so include a colorful mix and you will get plenty of nutrients. Oh, and don’t forget your dairy. A glass or low fat or skim milk is a great choice.

Q: In what ways do you think students at Miami can “Put their best fork forward”?

I think they can opt for healthy options offered by our dining services. Healthy options are a must on Miami’s menu. We work hard to give our students quality food. We give student access to ingredient and nutritional information and want to help them make informed, intelligent decisions. Healthy grab-and-go items are readily available if students are pressed for time. They should make a conscious, concerted effort to find healthy food they like, follow the MyPlate guidelines, make it colorful and it will be easy for them to “put their best fork forward.”

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