Jenny Tschiesche BSc(Hons) Dip(ION) FdSc BANT is an author, nutritionist, recipe developer, presenter and founder of the Lunchbox Doctor. The Lunchbox Doctor, in partnership with SportsAid, educates and advises the country’s most talented young athletes on their food intake and the impact this can have on their performance outcomes through nutrition workshops.
The Lunchbox Doctor was born when Jenny’s daughter began school in 2009. She wanted share her expertise and guidance with parents on how to create healthy lunches for their children. The business grew rapidly and she soon found herself developing recipes for the BBC, Cancer Research and Realbuzz, as well as many leading brands of kitchen equipment and health food.
Jenny’s relationship with SportsAid stems back to 2013 when she delivered her first workshop to athletes at the Copper Box Arena. This session was attended by Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge, the Patron of SportsAid, and in the years that have followed, she has been joined by many of the charity’s alumni including Dame Katherine Grainger and Becky Adlington OBE.
Jenny published her first book earlier this year called Sheet Pan Cooking: 101 recipes for simple and nutritious meals straight from the oven. Her newest titles, Gut Health and Probiotics, and The Modern Multi-Cooker Cookbook: 101 recipes for your instant pot are released this September. She also makes regular appearances on TV and radio on programmes including Good Morning Britain.
Here, Jenny explains more about the partnership between SportsAid and the Lunchbox Doctor, and the support she offers young athletes....
What is the history behind the Lunchbox Doctor?
“The Lunchbox Doctor started out when my daughter went to her first school in 2009. As a newly qualified nutritionist I realised very quickly that the typical lunchboxes were far below the required nutritional standards for health, let alone optimal health. So I started combining my nutrition knowledge with creating recipes and tips to share online with other parents going through the same issues. One of the reasons I got into nutrition originally is because of sport. I played a lot of hockey in my youth and competed at county and regional level, and then in the national league. I was given diet information as part of that, particularly when I was in my teens. The advice given was so far removed from the advice I give athletes today. It was heavily focused on carbohydrate loading and didn’t consider the power of protein in improving performance and aiding recovery. It really stuck with me though as I hadn’t realised until that point that what you eat determines how you perform, and that’s why I went on to study nutrition. I found the relationship between eating and performance fascinating – and not just in sport. I apply my knowledge to all sorts of areas now but it’s certainly sport that got me into nutrition without a doubt.”
What do the workshops you deliver to SportsAid athletes entail?
“I have changed the workshops slightly over the years in order to make the biggest difference to the largest number of people. They tend to be from 45 minutes to an hour, and I really, really focus on trying to get athletes to understand how they can use food strategically for a better outcome for their sporting performance, but also for their recovery. I think the recovery is the bit where there is more emphasis placed now than before. If athletes eat correctly and recover better, they’re giving themselves the platform to perform to a higher standard at the next training session or competition. During the sessions we cover the importance of quality as well as quantity when it comes to food intake. We talk about the value of specific food groups to particular performance outcomes, which foods fit into these food groups and how to integrate those into your diet. One example would be ensuring athletes get sufficient antioxidants into their diet. Brightly coloured fruit and vegetables are an integral part of an athlete’s diet but sometimes people get stuck eating the same veg over and over. Healthy fats are also often lacking so we talk about where to get these and ways to enjoy them in a balanced diet too. Understanding hydration and refuelling strategies before, during and after sport is really important and athletes often get the opportunity to make their own recovery drink or bar."
What does the knowledge base of the athletes tend to be like coming into the workshop? How do you make the sessions suitable for all?
“I would say the variety is huge. Certain athletes have so much information that they can even teach me a few things, and others have so little that they’re doing well to get by as they are! I think a lot can depend on how much funding certain sports get, and whether they’ve had support on nutrition before. Their own interest in the subject comes into play too. There can be different elements to consider for the workshops but I would say that everyone gets a certain base level of knowledge which is really important, and then we try to focus on different areas of sport. Some need specific information as they can vary in what they’re trying to get their bodies to do. It could be longer distance or require a burst of energy like sprinting, a team sport like hockey, rugby, football, and then I always make considerations for para-athletes. I think that’s helped by having an athlete in the room who has already represented that sport at the top level, for example, weightlifting, or a triathlete, or a kayaker, as they can share their own history and their relationship with nutrition.”
The athletes are quite hands on in the workshops and help make certain recipes. Have you had positive feedback after sessions?
“Nutrition can be quite a dry subject with a lot of theoretical learning. You really need to move people from theory to practice so by getting athletes involved in practical tasks, by making their own post-training recovery drink, or post-training recovery bar, they get to understand where they may buy the ingredients from to do this. Making the session practical, including looking at the cost of certain ingredients, means it’s more likely that athletes are going to put in place elements they’ve learnt from the workshop. The feedback afterwards is one of the best parts of the job. When you get a personal email from an athlete who has tried something very specific, where they may have come up to you after the workshop, or they’ve used information they learnt during the session, and they’ve said that it’s really helped – that’s very satisfying. Social media is a really good way of communicating and quite a lot of people will use the recipes I’ve devised and they share pictures of what they’ve made after an event at their training grounds. I think that’s great as it’s really good that people show how they’re implementing the knowledge on a practical level.”
What do you enjoy most about working with the SportsAid athletes directly?
“I find them absolutely inspiring and fascinating. Why do certain people get into certain sports? The passion and the drive these athletes have, and the will to succeed, and what they’re willing to do to get there. These are among the best clients I ever get to work with as they’re so willing to try what you suggest to really improve their performance, their times, or to get better sporting outcomes. From my perspective, they’re a joy to work with because they’re a really captive audience who want to know, want to learn, and then go away and go ahead and implement what they’ve learnt in the workshops, and then see great results. I love helping to educate people - anything where I can support large groups, and that’s also through my writing and books, to make small changes to the way that they eat to get a better outcome. Whether that’s through more energy, better sleep, performances on the pitch or the track. If people have seen improvements through listening and learning then I’m happy.”
What has dictated the focus of your books?
“I’ve found myself doing a lot of festivals working alongside amazing, amazing chefs, with Michelin stars and who are regulars on TV, but my one complaint is that their recipes can be a little bit too complicated. Too many ingredients and it’s enough to put me off making them. I’m not a trained chef but I love cooking and I felt if I put together recipes that are simple, with not many ingredients, which are easy to cook in one pot, or on one baking tray, that people would actually genuinely want to make them. That’s really my thinking behind my first two recipe books. They’re recipes that I can make after a busy day at work, or I could simply leave instructions for my husband or my children that they can follow as they can make a great meal in one pot or on one baking tray. I do a lot of workshops where the biggest challenge is processed foods, meal deals, and I totally understand why people go down that path. But I need to try and make people understand that there is a simpler and easier way, and a much more healthy way, to keep our bodies fitter and healthier for longer.”
How much of a say can the cost of food have on people's decision-making?
“It’s the quantity of the food which particularly active people need to consume that really prohibits them from buying out. That’s because if you really want to get quality food away from home it can cost you a lot of money. You can buy a lot of poor quality food for not very much but that’s not the good nutritious fuel that our bodies need. So if you really do want to provide your body with the nutrition that it needs, then it’s better to do it at home, prepare it there, and take it with you. A lot of people say to me about eating healthily being more expensive, but what they don’t realise, is that we actually spend a smaller proportion, relative to our income today, on food than we ever used to. If we’re going to buy quality produce then we need to be prepared to spend what it costs us to buy. Quality fish and meat. A lot of the time it’s about how to cook it, how to bake it, how to griddle it, bringing out the flavour and knowing what vegetables go well. A little bit knowledge can go a long way.”
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