Eat together as a family. Studies show children (and parents) have healthier habits when family meals are prioritized.
Add veggies wherever you can. Not only does it help to improve nutrition, but it can expand your meals. Roasted veggies in pasta, greens added to a soup or stew, sprouts, carrots, peppers, or cucumbers added to a wrap.
As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Reshma Shah, M.D., M.P.H, a board-certified pediatrician and affiliate clinical instructor at Stanford University School of Medicine. She is the co-author of Nourish: The Definitive Plant-Based Nutrition Guide for Families. She has additional training and certification in plant-based nutrition and cooking and lives in the Bay Area with her husband and two children.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
I grew up in a fairly traditional Indian household in the suburbs of Pittsburgh. Our family traditions around food included a vegetarian diet with lots of lentils, vegetables, and whole grains and an abundance of spices. Despite the fact that I grew up on a fairly plant-centered diet, during my college years and medical training my diet was focused on convenience foods and included a fair amount of animal products. As I began having children of my own, I began to explore the connection between health and diet more deeply. Amazingly, my research led me right back to the family traditions I grew up with. I learned that the foundation of health is a diet centered around plant foods. As I began making changes at our dinner table, this growing awareness followed me into my exam rooms and shaped the way I spoke to patients and families about food.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
I was seeing patients on a Saturday morning and met with a mom and her newborn for routine follow-up after being discharged from the hospital. This with mom’s third child, so she was quite experienced. She shared that she was troubled by how much the baby was spitting up. She was calm and methodical in her description. At first glance, it appeared to be the “normal” baby spitting up that we can see during the newborn period. We talked about measures to reduce the spitting up and I was preparing to send the family home when I witnessed the “spit-up” that had been worrying mom. I too became concerned and elected to admit the baby for further evaluation. When I returned to work the following Monday, I noticed that the same baby was on the schedule again. I felt relieved believing the baby was discharged after a normal workup. To my surprise, the mother looked panicked when I entered the room. She said the baby fed well at the hospital and was discharged the following day. She insisted that something was definitely wrong. In fact, the baby had lost quite a bit of weight. This time around I insisted on specific testing to evaluate the baby’s gastrointestinal tract and arranged for re-admission. It turns out the baby had an anatomic abnormality that required immediate surgical intervention. The baby did well following the surgery. Years of clinical practice and this experience, in particular, has taught me that there is no greater expert of a child than the parent.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Perhaps it’s not really a mistake but I changed fields after doing an internship in a different field. I had been so focused on a singular path and leaving my program felt like I had failed at something. In hindsight, it turned out to be a good decision. It taught me that shifting and changing is a part of life.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I am incredibly grateful for my co-author Brenda Davis. She has written 11 books and spoken around the world. She certainly took a chance in agreeing to work with someone who had never written a book before. Her wisdom, expertise, and generosity have been a true gift to me.
Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
I co-authored a book on plant-based nutrition for families with Brenda Davis. It has been a deeply fulfilling project and I hope that it will help support parents to feed their families for health and with joy. It is a dietary approach that is health-promoting, sustainable, compassionate, and delicious!
Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.
- Cook more at home. Studies have shown meals prepared at home tend to have higher nutritional quality.
- Eat together as a family. Studies show children (and parents) have healthier habits when family meals are prioritized.
- Add veggies wherever you can. Not only does it help to improve nutrition, but it can expand your meals. Roasted veggies in pasta, greens added to a soup or stew, sprouts, carrots, peppers, or cucumbers added to a wrap.
- Cook more than you need for a meal. Leftovers are prized in our family. They make for quick and easy lunches or a second dinner (later in the week or frozen)
- Schedule in exercise. If I leave it to the end of the day, more often than not, it just doesn’t happen.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Encouraging families to cook and eat together more often, with a focus on plant-foods.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- It’s ok to change your mind. I started out in a different field and ended up switching to pediatrics. Even within my chosen field, I’ve done a variety of different things.
- You can’t possibly have all the answers. It’s important to acknowledge what you may not know and be willing to work with families to get to the answers.
- Follow-up is key. I’ve sometimes lost sleep over clinical decisions. Arranging for follow-up with a family — whether in the office or phone call at the end of the day is an invaluable tool to reassure parents (and me!)
- Balance is going to look different for everyone. Early on in my career, I often judged what my career path should look like based on what others were doing. The more I focused on my personal priorities, ambitions, and goals, the easier it became for me. It’s still a work in progress but I’m getting better at it.
- Definitely consider the cost of your education. Medical education is incredibly expensive and the reimbursement for some specialties can make paying off student loans quite burdensome.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
Veganism is actually a perfect blend of so many of the things that are important to me. It can promote health, sustainability, and above all compassion.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Thank you for these fantastic insights!