Community Highlight: Ashley Koch

Community Highlight: Ashley Koch

Ashley Koch inspires families to make healthy choices in many facets of their lives that allow children to grow and thrive. She is passionate about providing parents with the tools and support to help their children create lifelong healthy relationships with food. With a focus on individualized plans, she works with families to make nutrition decisions and behavioral shifts that fit into their lives. She finds inspiration all around her - from Northern California grocery stores, to farmers markets, to the pediatrician’s office, to food blogs and cookbooks. She is currently pursuing her master's degree in Functional Medicine and Human Nutrition.

How did your nutrition journey start?

Fifteen years ago, I was the least likely person to be on the path to becoming a Functional Nutritionist. I had recently graduated from college, and my health impaired my ability to enjoy life on a daily basis. Contrary to my parents’ advice, I ate mostly empty calories, packaged foods, and unlimited amounts of sugar. I had a long list of symptoms and a litany of doctors for each one, none of whom ever recommended lifestyle shifts.  

After college, I moved from Pittsburgh to San Francisco, with my collection of prescription and over-the-counter medications in tow. My early nutrition education started while perusing local farmers markets, reading cookbooks, and following food blogs. I then began to visit the offices of alternative practitioners and integrative and functional doctors, where I was encouraged to make lifestyle changes that would ultimately allow me to give up my small pharmacy of medications and to feel healthy for the first time in as long as I could remember.

Becoming a mother was the ultimate shift that led me to pursue my master's in Functional Medicine and Human Nutrition. I saw firsthand how nutrition provided healing for my children at various stages, and I was grateful to work with a pediatrician who believed nutrition should take center stage for parents when it comes to raising healthy kids. And, while studying, families in my community sought me out for advice on how to make better choices for their children and address certain nutritional issues. It was an organic shift, and I quickly realized that helping and advising parents and families brought me so much joy.

What do you find the most rewarding and the most challenging about being in charge of your family’s nutrition?

The most rewarding part of managing my children’s nutrition has been seeing, firsthand, how shifts in food choices, and identifying food sensitivities, has allowed them to heal from specific symptoms over the years. But, most rewarding would be seeing my children thrive and grow, knowing that nutrition plays a role in that journey.

The most challenging part of feeding a family of four is making a weekly plan that works for all of us. When my oldest started elementary school, this brought a deeper awareness for her on how different families value food. This also meant we had to have more conversations about those differences and further articulate why we make the choices we do. Most days, she is grateful to have access to quality food, but there are days when she is just a child who feels she is missing out on “fun foods” in colorful packaging. Food marketing can make parents’ lives incredibly challenging, and I am always trying to meet my kids where they are and keep things interesting.

I want our children to enjoy the food experiences they have, eventually find their independence about how certain choices make them feel, and appreciate that food is one of the many tools for their health.

Of course, there is no magic food that will address all of the nutrition needs of your children, but what are some of your go-tos and why?

A variety of colorful fruits and vegetables are staples in our household. As I shifted my lifestyle, I found I frequently craved vegetables. I wanted to expose my children to these flavor experiences to help them cultivate their palettes for healthier preferences at a young age. We are lucky to live in area with access to amazing farmers who are always growing interesting varieties and some produce that I had never seen most of my life. We often shop with the season at the farmers market, which means there is always new variety of colorful fruits and vegetables to take home and experiment with in the kitchen. Youtube and Google have made experimenting with new foods so much easier! We also eat a variety of nuts and seeds and are frequently shifting the offerings we have in the house to keep it fresh.

What role do supplements play in your approach to nutrition?

My kids and I have taken a variety of supplements at different times, based on the range of symptoms we might be experiencing or the particular phase of life we are in. I find they can be crucial in filling gaps, especially during times of healing.

What are your go-to daily supplements?

Targeted probiotics became critical for us in healing from specific symptoms at various stages. My children have taken a Vitamin D/K2 supplement since birth and began Omega-3 supplementation at six months to support their development, growth, and overall health.

What dream product do you wish existed, but you can’t seem to find?

I hope in the future we continue to see improvements in the technology that allows the body to fully access all that supplements have to offer. I imagine there will be a time when you are able to create more individualized supplements that meet the needs of a specific patient. I’m also fascinated by the microbiome and I hope someday there might be access to supplementation that allows patients to regain or rebuild their diverse population of bacteria without a fecal transplant.

We are interested in exploring nourishment at the intersection of food, family, community. Can you tell us a story about an especially nourishing meal that you had alone or shared with others?

Easy weekday meals are necessary for my family, but I am thankful that we are still able to prioritize eating together each evening. One particular family dinner that has become a part of our regular routine is a sushi bowl. I love how little preparation they require and that they allow everyone in the family to build a bowl that they will enjoy. Often this will include brown rice or sushi rice, avocado, cucumbers, sliced raw carrots, strips of seaweed, microgreens, coconut amino acids, tamari, and salmon or salmon roe. One of the most time consuming parts of this dish is cooking the rice, and this can be done ahead of time. I love that these bowls come together easily, and the kids love being able to make them their own, just as they want them.

What books have influenced your personal nutrition education the most?

I believe in bio-individuality, which means there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition. What works for me does not necessarily work for someone else. That said, there isn’t one specific book on nutrition that has given me a sense of direction. Instead, my views come from the influence of a variety of books, blogs, social posts, and other tidbits of information I have come across over time.

When it comes to nutrition and functional medicine, I think there are a lot wonderful books to explore. If you are just beginning your nutrition journey, then I think Mark Hyman’s book What the Heck Should I Eat? is a great starting point. When it comes to children’s nutrition, I think what you want to cultivate is often less about the actual food and more about the relationship to food. I greatly connected to Ellyn Slatter’s work and her many books. I also found great wisdom in It’s not about the Broccoli by Dina Rose.

Next on my personal reading list is What’s Making Our Children Sick? How Industrial Food is Causing an Epidemic of Chronic Illness, and What Parents (and Doctors) Can Do About It by Dr. Michelle Perro, our former pediatrician who is a wealth of information and research with her 37 years in practice.
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