The Path to Becoming

by pediatric dietitian, Ashley Smith of Veggies and Virtue

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

As a teenager, I nannied for a family with an extremely picky eater. Having been an adventurous eater most of my life, I was completely fascinated by the number and types of foods this child would turn down. Since I was responsible for serving him snacks and many evening meals during the week, I took it upon myself to experiment with what I offered him and how to engage him with his food in a playful, no-pressure, “his”-way.

I wasn’t his parent. In fact, I was still returning home to my own mom’s home-cooked meals after a day of high school and after-school babysitting. But there was a curiosity deeply rooted in me that inspired me each day to keep trying to introduce this child to foods in a fun way. We built fruit plates that looked like works of art and I experimented with what I now know as “food chaining” just out of sheer curiosity to see what small and yet subtle changes we could try to get him eating more variety. My passion was immature and underdeveloped, but it was genuine and so connected to the source of daily being invested in the most simple moments of a child’s life.

The Path to “Becoming”

I went to college eager to pursue a degree in nutrition. I spent birthdays in the anatomy or chemistry lab and went to bed early on Friday nights so I could wake up at 5:15 AM on Saturdays to go in and work as a diet tech at the local hospital. I was president of our student nutrition association, volunteered at the soup bank, and took advantage of every opportunity to boost my extracurricular commitments to into the grad school of my choice.

Fast forward four years, and I did get into my dream graduate program. I was a dietetic intern and grad student with endless opportunities to pursue pediatrics. I moved away from everything I knew, studied hard, sought an extra fellowship for even more exposure to the experts, and eventually landed myself a job at the nation’s largest children’s hospital.

At 22, I thought I finally “made it.”

Accolades in a Box

I worked for less than five years before our first daughter was born. I spent over six years prior to that stepping on every traditional benchmark for success I could find. Then I hit a crossroads with all the accolades I worked so hard for sitting in a box I packed up before maternity leave.

Since as long as I can remember, I sought the extra credit, put in the extra hours, and earned the top grade so what I could “do what I loved.” Yet somehow as a new mom, I knew I couldn’t go back. Not just to a job that demanded more of me than I felt I could give anymore, but more so to a way of life and measure of success that I knew would no longer align with my expression of self.

For the first time in my life, I had to look at what truly fueled me.

Initially, it was just feeding my own child as best as I could. With several unexpected hurdles in breastfeeding and starting solids, I felt like I was being tested as a dietitian early on. Beyond that though, I quickly found fellow moms to have a lot of questions I either could answer or couldn’t rest until I found an answer for. I saw how universal many of our challenges as moms were. Unlike a professional world that always felt so competitive, I found motherhood to be such a refreshing place for resting in the rawness to which we could all relate. We all are trying to feed our children the best we can.

The only distinguishing factor to what I experienced was that I had an understanding and education that made feeding more intuitive. Investing this knowledge and energy in my fellow community of moms quickly became my greater aim.

“Not enough to go around”

As moms, we all struggle to know how to be good stewards of our time and energy. With one child, we wonder how we could ever manage more. Then, somehow, someway, we find ways to make it work with more kids, less time, and most definitely less sleep.

On a crazy whim of courage, I started my pediatric nutrition business shortly after my second child turned one. I knew making this initial step toward putting my long-term goals in motion would help to keep me accountable to showing up - each day, each week, and each month in whatever capacity I could. I’m not working to the extent that I could be and I am surely not operating in such a way that will win me any awards. But with a four-year-old and two-year-old at home and a little one on the way, I am thankful I didn’t declare there is “not enough to go around” in this season. Doing so has helped shift me from a place of self-preservation to one that is deeply rooted in what initially inspired me fifteen years ago.

Fueling Passion

Now, I get to sit across my own kitchen table, with my own kids, building our own elaborate fruit plates, and food chaining for the sake of expanding my own family’s diets. And in each struggle and success I face, I now have the amazing opportunity to share it with others in hopes that maybe somewhere, somehow, it is going to help another mom with meal time at her kitchen table.