Catherine Wallace isn’t very concerned with diets, considering she is currently a pediatric dietician and nutrition instructor. Wallace believes there is a big difference between diet and dieting, which she feels is a matter of simplicity. To her, simplicity can mean the difference between being healthy and not.

Growing up, Wallace didn’t need guidance on being a “healthy kid,” she just naturally gravitated toward it.

“I always was the kid who loved food and would try anything,” she said. “Even going into high school [food] was very important to me. I was always trying to get my friends to eat healthy.”

Wallace not only ate a wide variety of vegetables that most kids would scoff at, she liked to stay active and exercised regularly.

“Eating and exercise have always been a part of my life. I mean I can remember growing up and having a Thighmaster when I was 6 or 7 years old. I mean, what kind of kid has a Thighmaster?”

After forgoing a nursing degree in Orlando when she realized she, “would never, ever work in a hospital,” Wallace fell in love with UNF’s nutrition program. And, being close to the surf certainly helped, too. She completed both an undergraduate and graduate degree in nutrition there and currently works as an instructor at UNF.

Today, Wallace loves what she does. She loves working with children and families at Wolfson Children’s Hospital, teaching food science and nutrition at UNF at nights, volunteering for Girls on the Run, all while being a mom to her two young children. As you can imagine, her day is often busy and is always long.

Amazingly, Wallace finds the time to eat well and exercise, while also being consumed with teaching the subject all day. She said that the hardest part to get used to when living healthy in a limited time frame is pre-planning meals. Pre-planning doesn’t have to be daunting though, she added. It can be as easy as bringing a bag lunch or having something in the Crock-Pot for dinner. Just keep it simple, she said.

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Wallace’s favorite word is “simple.” She uses it often when giving advice or offering guidance for people looking to figure out “tricks” to living healthy and losing weight. Most “tricks” end up being just that, she said. Most fall into the trap of believing they work, when in fact most people end up back where they started.

“If you took a little time to pre-plan meals, the rest falls into place. After a while, you don’t have to take so much time for it. When you cook simply, every meal does not have to be gourmet. It’s so much faster to prepare a sweet potato, strawberries and chicken for dinner.”

Wallace also urges those who are used to eating out not to give up on eating simply and cooking at home.

“When you’re used to highly seasoned and highly flavored foods, eating at home is not going to taste as good. When you cook at home and you don’t use all that fat and salt, you start to re-train your taste buds. Start slowly, it might take a few weeks, maybe four to six weeks depending on the person. That might seem like a lot but when you go back and eat a salty pretzel you will taste [the difference].”

When preparing at home, Wallace said to keep in mind the basic plate equation: A fourth to a half a plate of lean protein, half a plate or more vegetables and a quarter plate of grains. “Vegetables are the most nutrient dense with minimal calories. They contain loads of fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, so load up on them,” she said. “The more colorful the better.”

Wallace stresses not only to be simple with food, but easy on yourself as well.

“There will be days when you want a cookie, or an extra serving. Have it. I try to eat well about 80 percent of the time if I can help it. In the end though, you have to want to eat well to feel good.”