First and foremost, Jill Castle is a pediatric nutritionist and childhood nutrition expert. She works with parents to help them best nourish their children with nutritious foods and recipes and effective feeding strategies, establishing healthy habits that last a lifetime. To Needed, Jill is a vital advisor, helping to inform our educational content for practitioners and consumers, alike.
How did your nutrition journey start?
In a way, nutrition found me. I had plans to become a doctor; I was a pre-med major in college. But, I could not get myself through Organic Chemistry. At the time, my father suggested that I look into nutrition. It was the mid-80s, and he told me, “It’s the wave of the future. Pretty soon, every disease will have a root in nutrition.” That inspired me to take a nutrition course. I found it so interesting! I loved it, and I was good at it. So, I shifted from pre-med to nutrition, and that was the start of it.
My focus on pediatrics came when I was awarded an internship at Massachusetts General Hospital. During my rotation in the pediatric ward, I fell in love with pediatric nutrition. It was fascinating. Kids get all of the same diseases as adults. But, what’s interesting is that kids are still growing, and their diseases need to be treated with that in mind. Pediatric care became a passion for me, and I spent 9 years working in hospitals.
Eventually, family nutrition became a priority for me when I started my own family. I had four children in five years and, for nearly a decade, I felt that all I did, day in and day out, was feed my kids. I discovered that, even as a professional nutritionist, getting your kids to eat well is a challenge. As a parent, you have to feed the child in front of you. It can be humbling. I think my training, my extensive experience in a clinical setting, and then raising and feeding children of my own really prepared me for the next phase of my personal and professional journey.
When my youngest child went to preschool, and I had a lot of time back in my schedule, I decided it was time to get back to work. Funnily enough, I was torn between going back into nutrition or opening an antique store. As you can guess, I went the route of a pediatric nutrition private practice. At that time, I also started blogging, which ultimately led to authoring books, speaking, consulting, and continuing to see patients.
It has been a long journey, but there is still so much more ahead.
What do you find the most rewarding and the most challenging about being in charge of your family’s nutrition?
I love the joy around food. It’s wonderful to watch your children enjoy the food they’re eating, to hear them make requests for favorite dishes, and to see their excitement as they gather at the dinner table.
The most challenging part is certainly the day-to-day grind. Preparing meals is an undertaking. There is so much that goes into it: What time are we eating? What are we having? What do we have in the kitchen? What do I need at the store? When am I even going to get to the store? For anyone, especially working parents, it is a lot to consider.
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?
In our household, the main dishes are proteins, vegetables, and fruits. We eat grains, too, but those are usually a small side dish.
To me, it’s important to always have a variety of proteins - a lot of poultry, beef, fish, and eggs. I’m also always stocking up on fresh produce.
What role do supplements play in your approach to nutrition?
I use supplements to fill nutritional gaps that are a result of allergies or the inability to acquire certain foods or nutrients in the diet.
What are your go-to daily supplements?
Vitamin D, a probiotic, and an Omega-3.
What dream product do you wish existed, but you can’t seem to find?
I’ve always thought it would be interesting to be able to tailor a supplement’s content to the individual. When a supplement is warranted, I spend a lot of time looking for the right combination of nutrients to address the needs of the child. I’m often patching things together to meet their needs. I’d also like to see more meaningful amounts of calcium available in a multivitamin for kids.
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?
Now that my kids are older, it’s rare that we are all in the same place, at the same time. We were lucky to have the whole family together this past Christmas. It wasn’t one meal, in particular, but the time spent over Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas Day breakfast was very nourishing. It was the little moments that made it special: the Christmas sweets, the shared mimosas, and our tradition of holding hands and saying, “just because we are all together” before each meal. It’s important to me that my children are proud of who they are and understand how great their family is. When we are together, we are able to reinforce the value of our family unit.
What books have influenced your personal nutrition education the most?
Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good, by Ellyn Satter and writing the book Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School allowed me to step back and take a bird’s eye view on nutrition for the whole child, throughout all of childhood, in a way I probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do so otherwise.