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Balance in the Chaos

a family of five including two parents and three little boys prepares dinner in the kitchen
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We know that a healthy diet is part of the recipe for good health. But how do you put that into daily practice when your life is turned upside down?

McKenzie Rockwood ’08, a nutritionist, sensed “a disconnect” between the information she gave patients at the hospital where she worked and their actions once discharged. Most of her patients were in the intensive care unit and required to meet with a nutritionist before leaving the hospital.

Some were newly diagnosed with diabetes or heart disease.

“By the time I got in there, I just felt like they were so ready to go home,” she says. “They also don’t feel well.”

Rockwood tried balancing the need for education in the few moments she had with them with the practicality of what they would retain and put into practice outside the clinical setting.

“You don’t want to overwhelm them with information and make them think they have to change everything overnight,” she says. “I think the biggest barrier is just that feeling of being overwhelmed and not knowing where to start.”

Often, it felt like her consults were checking off a box rather than making a meaningful difference in their lives.

“I was just thinking, how overwhelming would it be to get a new diagnosis, with a new lifestyle change of your diet, and then have to go to the grocery store and see these long, daunting aisles and know
what can I choose and what do I need to avoid?”

Citrus Pear was her workaround.

“Give them a resource so that they can come, and have it all planned, and know that everything is safe and healthy for them to eat,” Rockwood says.

In 2016, she opened the first Citrus Pear location in Cache Valley. What started as a cooking class at the Logan River Golf Course clubhouse shifted to renting space at a Lee’s Marketplace grocery store. During the class, participants assemble two heart-healthy meals developed by Rockwood or one of the 29 other Citrus Pear nutritionists. The format allows participants to take ownership of preparing meals and knowing the meals are modified for health conditions they may have such as food allergies. Citrus Pear quickly expanded to 28 sites across Utah, Idaho, Arizona, Colorado, and Nevada. All people need to do is register beforehand and bring a cooler.

“Initially I thought this was going to be a learning environment where we are going to do some nutrition teaching,” Rockwood says.

Two classes in, she saw something else happening.

chicken tacos with salsa and lime in a bowl

“I realized it is such a bonding event for these people as well. They were all connecting with each other. That really is something Citrus Pear has evolved into—a community—that comes together and is being productive. That to me is just as important as the nutrition aspect. I think we have all seen that reinforced with COVID-19 and quarantine and how much we need that.”

– McKenzie Rockwood

“I realized it is such a bonding event for these people as well,” Rockwood says. “They were all connecting with each other. That really is something Citrus Pear has evolved into—a community—that comes together and is being productive. That to me is just as important as the nutrition aspect. I think we have all seen that reinforced with COVID-19 and quarantine and how much we need that.”

Social support, like a healthy diet, is another component of good health. Medical journals have long documented the benefits of having a strong network of friends and family who care about us. Social support can not only help reinforce healthy behaviors like getting regular exercise or eating more vegetables, but also create a sense of belonging and stability that can reduce conditions like depression.

COVID-19 upended the way many people congregate. That includes Citrus Pear’s model of in-person classes. In the early weeks of the pandemic, the company’s website crashed as people stockpiled healthy meals for their freezers.

Rockwood’s team of 175 employees, including her husband Mace, ’03, MBA ’09, who oversees Citrus Pear’s operations, shifted to making preassembled meals and meal kits for pickup while juggling the search for new food vendors and rental spaces to prepare for online onslaught. In recent months, the frenzy eased, and some Citrus Pear sites have reopened.

“Our whole mission and vision is to find balance in the chaos,” Rockwood says. “Everyone is in chaos right now. Life was chaotic before the pandemic, too, but it is trying to find that balance with your schedule, with your diet, with your time together. There is balance in all things.”

By Kristen Munson

Learn tips from McKenzie on how when life gets difficult, your diet doesn’t have to suffer.

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