“Why you should eat foods in season” with Prachi Baxi of SmartyPans

Seasonal foods are more nutritious, flavorful and an economical way to add variety to our diet. Consuming more seasonal foods also lowers the demand for out-of-season foods, thus reducing your carbon footprint, supporting environmental sustainability and supporting local farmers. As a part of my series about women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing […]

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Seasonal foods are more nutritious, flavorful and an economical way to add variety to our diet. Consuming more seasonal foods also lowers the demand for out-of-season foods, thus reducing your carbon footprint, supporting environmental sustainability and supporting local farmers.

As a part of my series about women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Prachi Baxi, CEO and co-founder of SmartyPans, Inc.

Prachi Baxi created the first app-based smart pan to help people automatically compute nutrition while cooking and enjoying their favorite recipes. Her company, SmartyPans, Inc. evolved from her background as a clinical nutritionist, avid home cook and her role as a counselor in Michelle Obama’s Healthy Hunger-Free Kids program. She believes that home cooking is a huge factor in creating a more sustainable world — the SmaryPans app enables a recipe-sharing, global cooking community.

Thank you for joining us! Can you share your “backstory” with us?

Icome from a nutrition and fitness background. I have a Masters in Public and Clinical Nutrition and before starting SmartyPans I’d worked in the fitness industry as a Nutrition Counselor and with a USDA Federal Meal Program — Michelle Obama’s Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act.

Although I started working on SmartyPans by late 2015, the idea has been sprouting since I was in college. “What should I eat?” has been the most common question I’ve been answering since I was in college. Friends, family, my clients, at the gym — or even the Barista at Starbucks — anyone who knew I was a nutritionist would ask me for nutrition tips. I can create recipes at whim to optimize for any nutritional requirements from the top of my head.

I realized people were interested in optimizing their favorite recipes to meet their nutritional requirements but the moment I asked them to weigh and measure ingredients, that’s when the interest would die down.

I wondered if somehow it was possible to automatically compute nutrition and portions and let people enjoy their favorite recipes, the way they want to cook it. And, that’s when I decided to pursue my idea seriously. I reached out to my brother, an engineer, who built the first prototype in his apartment, and we called it SmartyPans.

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?

At my previous job, my primary responsibility was to ensure that school districts adhere to the Federal Meal Program nutritional requirements for meals served in schools. At first, this was a numbers game for me, and I would optimize the school menus for compliance.

However, when I began visiting schools during audits, I realized how my work had different repercussions on different actors involved and how everyone affected had a different goal. Kids just wanted exciting tasty meals, schools wanted the federal funding to provide their kids with meals and the government wanted to ensure that schools are conforming to the nutritional requirements.

I realized how my work satisfied requirements for schools and government compliance but not the kids. Kids and parents saw this change in healthy meals as tasteless and bland.

My main takeaway from this story was, as a nutritionist, my job should not just be to assist people with adopting a healthier lifestyle but empowering them with tools and knowledge to take charge of their own health.

Your food doesn’t have to be bland or bad tasting to be healthy. Educating and empowering people with basic culinary and nutrition skills could play a major role in breaking the diet mindset and changing the perception towards healthy eating.

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?

My brother is also my co-founder. Finding the right co-founder(s) when you are starting off is very crucial. The early stages of development are arduous and you need a co-founder who’s as passionate and excited about the idea as you are. Someone who is tenacious and has the skill sets that complement yours. In my case, it happened to be my brother and I’m very grateful for that. Rahul is a Carnegie Mellon University graduate and a talented, multifaceted engineer. When I first came up with the idea, I couldn’t think of anyone else but Rahul. I gave him a call and without any second thoughts, he jumped all in.

As siblings, we get along really well, share common interests and most importantly we enjoy working with each other. That makes the journey more enjoyable and I’m grateful for that.

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?

Portion control, nutrition tracking and home cooking are well-proven methods for meeting any kind of health and fitness goals. Consumers are already aware of it as well. 89 percent of millennials already cook at home. What’s missing though, is the ability to track the nutrition of home-cooked meals.

With SmartyPans, our goal is to remove the friction from home cooking and nutrition tracking. We did just that with our patented smart cookware. Our first product is a smart cooking pan that allows you to record recipes, get customized step-by-step cooking instructions and computes nutrition information in real-time.

From the SmartyPans app, users can share their recipes and automatically integrate with fitness trackers such as Apple Health and Fitbit.

We are introducing a positive behavioral change by making cooking fun, interactive and social.

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.

1. Be conscious of what you eat

Be aware of where the food comes from, what impact it has on the planet and your body. Home cooking is the most important step towards conscious eating. When you cook meals at home, you are mindful of the ingredients you buy, the cooking process, your portion size and the nutritional impact it has on your body.

2. Eat seasonally

Seasonal foods are more nutritious, flavorful and an economical way to add variety to our diet. Consuming more seasonal foods also lowers the demand for out-of-season foods, thus reducing your carbon footprint, supporting environmental sustainability and supporting local farmers.

3. Don’t shop hungry
When you’re buying groceries, always shop after eating a meal. If you shop hungry you will buy more than you need and gravitate towards unhealthy snacks and processed foods.

4. Buy locally

Purchase as much produce, nuts, mushrooms, craft cheeses, honey or loaves of bread at local farmer’s markets or stands as you can when they are available. If not available in your area, select local products, and fresh produce at your grocery store. This has a huge impact on your carbon footprint by reducing the number of shipped foods across states or from other countries.

5. Learn to control stress

Any kind of physical/mental stress increases the level of cortisol, a stress hormone in your body. High cortisol levels often increase your craving for processed and sugary foods which causes weight gain, depression and anxiety. Make sure you eat a balanced meal, keep yourself hydrated and engage in some form of physical activity, meditation, deep breathing or other stress-reduction activity, all of which help keep the stress hormone in check.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I would start a movement around home cooking. I believe good health starts in our kitchens. When you cook at home, you become more aware of the ingredients you use in your food, you are more mindful of your portion sizes and it’s a proven fact that people who cook at home eat and live healthier lives than people who don’t. Cooking also has a therapeutic and meditative effect on your mind. If you learn to enjoy the cooking process you will be a healthier and happier version of yourself. I’d call my movement “Eat Deliciously and Nutritiously”

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

1. Take time to appreciate your small accomplishments

When you are working towards your goal, you often miss out on the small little things that lead you to your goal. Take time to appreciate and celebrate every small milestone. That will keep you mentally vitalized and provide the necessary fuel to keep moving forward.

2. Take breaks periodically

As a startup founder, we often forget to shut down our brains from working. We often underestimate or neglect how small breaks can rejuvenate our minds and increase our productivity. For instance, taking a nap, going out into nature for a hike or shutting yourself off for a while can recharge your brain drastically and give you a fresh perspective of looking at things and you can solve problems more efficiently.

3. Be in the present

Looking in the past will always make you feel like you could have done things better and looking in the future will stress you out. Always be in the present, focus on tasks on hand and give it your 100 percent.

Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?

I care about all of them and see everything as interrelated. Although I don’t go overboard, I’m mindful and take actions to play my part as and when I can. For instance, I’m not 100 percent vegan, but seasonal produce makes up for the majority of my meals and I mostly shop at local farmers markets.

Incorporating more produce and seasonal foods in your diet is not only nutritious but it also reduces your carbon footprint. SmartyPans Inc. is a proud supporter of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. 80 percent of the material used to make SmartyPans is recyclable and we use 100 percent compostable packaging material. Our manufacturing facility is also 100 percent green and runs on solar power.

We are also very proud to partner with World Central Kitchen. We have pledged to donate a portion of every unit we sell to World Central Kitchen and play our part in feeding those affected by natural disasters.

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