As patients and clients become more mindful of cultural awareness and sensitivity with respect to their food choices, nutrition professionals are seeking out educational resources to help provide culturally relevant food and nutrition recommendations. And as a result, cultural competence and cultural humility are increasingly rising to the forefront at nutrition conferences, as well as in virtual webinars and trainings led by the many inspiring and creative culinary nutrition experts in the field. 

One of these inspirational leaders is Breana Lai Killeen, MPH, RD, the Test Kitchen & Editorial Operations Manager at EatingWell Magazine, who is passionate about educating her fellow dietitians and nutrition professionals on the importance of culturally sensitive recipe development and content creation. Eat Well Connect chatted with Breana about how she applies a cultural competency lens to her work at EatingWell Magazine, the path to merging her interests in both nutrition and cooking in her own career, and helpful resources for nutrition professionals looking to build their cultural competence in everyday practice. 

As a culinary nutritionist and graduate of Le Cordon Bleu London, when did you first discover your passion for cooking, and what has been your path to merging both the nutrition and culinary worlds in your career? 

I’ve been cooking for as long as I can remember. My mom and I took Chinese cooking classes when I was 8 so we could both learn how to make the food from my dad’s home country of Hong Kong. Then in high school, I started baking and making dinner for the family because my parents were so busy and it was a way I could help out. Then in college, I started a Friday dinner tradition where I cooked and friends showed up with drinks. It was also in college that I worked in my first restaurant kitchen, Town Hall Grill, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Because I knew I wanted to work in food, I switched majors to nutrition with the dream of going to culinary school after college. What I didn’t expect was how far my degree in nutrition was from the culinary world. After working in more restaurants, I went to University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) to get my Master’s in Public Health Nutrition in order to merge my love for good food in both the culinary and nutrition sectors.

At this year’s Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo, you’re teaming up with a stellar group of dietitians to discuss regional cooking techniques and recipes in Asian cuisine. From your perspective, why is it important for dietitians and nutritionists to learn about culturally sensitive recipe development and content creation? 

The food world is often grouped by cuisine—Asian, American, Middle Eastern, etc—but much of what is taught to dietitians and nutritionists is from a white lens. It’s important to realize that making blanket recommendations doesn’t work in this melting pot of a country. When developing recipes, it’s easy to default to what is in the “typical pantry” or “what you can get at the store.” But that is assuming that everyone has the same pantry and shops at the same stores. By creating recipes that use authentic ingredients, with substitutions listed second, not as primary, you’re creating culturally inclusive recipes that also reflect socially inclusive methods. I’ve always believed that we can’t help people eat better unless we show and teach them how through recipes and cooking demos.

As the Test Kitchen and Editorial Operations Manager for EatingWell, how do you incorporate a cultural competence and sensitivity lens to the recipes and content developed for this publication? 

We are constantly wrestling with how to write recipes for our very large audience that adheres to cultural sensitive practices while also being practical. Oh, and makes a pretty picture because we are a magazine! It’s a constant conversation as we have so many guidelines for our recipes, especially in our everyday Dinner Tonight section. So not only does the recipe need to have 10 ingredients or less and be prepared in 45 min or less, it also needs to photograph well, only use 1 or 2 pots and pans, oh yeah, and be authentic? It’s very hard so we end up getting as close as we can.

What resources might you recommend to food and nutrition professionals looking to build their knowledge of culturally sensitive recipes and cooking techniques? 

Follow recipe writers, bloggers, cookbook writers, etc who are experts in these respective fields. For example, for Chinese recipes, look to a blog called The Woks of Life. Not only do they post recipes but they explain the history and technique behind the ingredients and methods. Participate in (don’t only watch) cooking classes. Watch YouTube videos. Simply be open to platforms that might be out of your comfort zone but have experts behind them. And if you are unsure if you are being offensive, ASK someone. Reach out to Diversify Dietetics and see if there is someone willing to help you!

Breana Lai Killeen, MPH, RD is the Test Kitchen & Editorial Operations Manager at EatingWell Magazine in Shelburne, Vermont, United States. She oversees the development, production and nutrition analysis of all recipes as well as managing day-to-day operations to keep everything running smoothly. Breana has a master’s degree in public health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu London, a Wine Spirit & Education Trust trained sommelier and is a registered dietitian.