May. 30. 2017
Written By:
McKel (Hill) Kooienga
McKel Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

Founder of Nutrition Stripped® and the Mindful Nutrition Method™

Hey! Today I’m continuing what’s been one of my favorite series on the blog, the #NSKitchen series. I’ve been sharing interviews and behind the scenes stories and perspectives of some of my friends in the food and wellness space. If you know NS, then you know I follow my food philosophy and avoid dairy and gluten for personal health reasons; but healthy eating can look different for everyone because everybody is different, and that’s okay! Today I’m introducing you to my good friend, fellow Nashvillian, and holistic chef Laura Lea Goldberg of Laura Lea Balanced. Keep reading to get the inside scoop of what she keeps in her kitchen and we pick her brain as a chef who cooks delicious and healthy home meals for everyone in the family. Plus don’t forget to enter to win her first cookbook baby, The Laura Lea Balanced Cookbook, at the bottom of this post!

“In this series, I’m sharing the in’s and out’s of kitchens across the globe from fellow registered dietitians, bloggers, and friends. The mission behind the NS Kitchen is to embrace differences and help shine a light on the behind the scenes of wellness. We all have different ways of eating well, and it’s here on NS that they’ll be celebrated!”


What are your 5 must have items in your fridge at all times? 

  1. pasture-Raised eggs
  2. canned full-fat coconut milk
  3. Ousley Ouch Salsa (THE best) – *editors note* IT IS THE BEST! Local to Nashville
  4. organic Apples
  5. Kerrygold Grassfed Butter
  6. sriracha (I know I know that’s 6…)

What are your 5 must have items in your freezer at all times? 

  1. Locally made sourdough bread
  2. Organic frozen spinach, kale & fruit for smoothie (lol can that count?)
  3. Hilary’s Veggie Burger Bites
  4. Corn tortillas
  5. Leftovers!

What about your pantry?

  1. Dark chocolate
  2. Canned wild tuna and salmon
  3. Pasta (my favorite is Eat Banza chickpea pasta)
  4. Peanut and almond butter
  5. Right now, Siete Foods grain-free Nacho Chips
  6. Primal Kitchen Avocado Oil & Avocado Oil Mayo (ugh there I go ahead I cannot help myself)

Photo from The Home Edit Shop the photo: white bins, jars with wooden lids, white lazy spinners

5 chef tools you love that any home cook can use?
  1. Bench scraper—you can order this on Amazon for just a few bucks and it’s GREAT for cleaning things off the counter as you go!
  2. Cast Iron skillet—also affordable but invaluable when properly seasoned, for the amazing flavors it aggregates over the years.
  3. High-powered blender—pricy but to me, the best kitchen investment. ESPECIALLY for healthy cooking, which often requires blending things together to mimic cheese sauce and creams and making homemade flours from nuts or oats.
  4. A very flexible rubber spatula = no food waste and correct baking measurements. I have an OLD blue rubber spatula that has a super-flimsy edge, and I use it constantly to reach hard-to-get food.
  5. Speaking of, I also adore my stainless steel tongs—these are clutch for grabbing food that flips of a pan under the burners when cooking, and I also use it to pull pasta noodles or veggies out while boiling to see if they’re ready!
Also, pro tip—if you have a stainless steel chef’s knife (also KEY for any home cook), and you’ve been chopping garlic, carefully and gently rub your fingers on the flat edge, and this will remove the garlic smell!

What’s the “weirdest/non-traditional” food item we’d find in your kitchen? 

I just ordered coconut milk powder from Thrive Market, and I think it’s pretty cool and funky! It’s just dehydrated coconut milk, and I’m going to bring it with me when I travel to mix with my tea and protein powder in the morning!

What’s 1 word that describes your kitchen at home? 


Photo from The Home Edit

What’s your philosophy on cooking? 

Cooking should be a source of comfort, nourishment, and community. Your kitchen should be your safe space, your playground; your pots and pans should become old worn friends. But for that to be the case, we have to invest in our kitchens and pantries and set them up for success with the right staples. After that, I designate your kitchen a judgment and stress-free zone, and don’t try to make ‘perfect’ dishes—keep it as simple as you like, taste along the way, use your intuition and enjoy the process. 

What was your biggest kitchen fail while cooking?

My compost bucket was graced with multiple fails through the 9-month cookbook testing blur, but the worst was when I tested a Tuna Noodle Casserole. It was straight-up disgusting, and my poor sweet husband forced himself to eat it for almost a week because he knows I hate waste. Finally, when there were about two servings left, he just shook his head and said, “I can’t do it!”. I’m keeping Tuna Noodle Casserole in the “classics/do not mess with” archive from now on.

What’s your fondest or most special memory that took place in the kitchen? 

I’ll never forget finishing up my homework on many high-school nights to the smell of my mom’s rich, fudg-y double chocolate bundt cake. My brothers and I would race down, sit around the butcher block table and take thick, steaming slices. We’d enjoy it with chilled glasses of milk and relish each other’s company. While my choice in desserts and beverages has changed, these moments emblazoned the role of food in bringing loved ones together. Just thinking of those night fills me with the warmth that now permeates my own kitchen.

If you were on 1 cooking/TV show, what would it be and why? 

Barefoot Contessa/Ina Garten. Because all-hail the queen of making home-cooking accessible, beautiful and delicious.

What does nourishment mean to you? 

To me, to be nourished is to be in a state of need-less-ness: to feel satiated, filled-up and at peace. Nourishment comes in many more forms that food, and often the intangible kinds are far more important, such as those that come from charity, from maintaining integrity, from time in nature, or from time soothing a loved one. Many of us are malnourished because we are out of sync with our bodies AND with our hearts and minds. I believe that cooking is the most accessible way for us to get “inbodied” with ourselves and discover what truly nourishes us.

You come home from a long day at work/etc.; what’s the first food you reach for in your kitchen? 

A small saucepan, ‘cause I’m probably heating up some meal prep leftovers! To tide over any major hunger pains, I’ll snack on some of those Siete Foods Nacho Chips or any fruit in the fridge, usually whatever is seasonal.

Fill in the blank: my kitchen is full of ____

Pet Hair!!! Um, but otherwise…light. I have the most beautiful light that comes through trees outside and it dances around my kitchen. Did I mention that my kitchen is named Felicity? I love her dearly!

If you were to describe your philosophy about cooking and healthy food in a movie title, what would it be? 

No Diets, No Dogma, and Peanut Butter Makes Everything Better


  • Coffee or tea: Green tea
  • Green juice or smoothie: Green smoothie
  • Warm cereal or cold: Cold (Purely Elizabeth granola and quinoa puffs)
  • Spicy or sweet: Sweet (dark chocolate)
  • Go to snack: Sliced apples dipped in plain grass-fed yogurt (dairy-free is great too) that I’ve “doctored up” with cinnamon, a few drops of stevia, and a splash of vanilla extract!


Do you have any of the same go-to’s as LL? Is there something you think is a necessity for a well-stocked kitchen that we’re missing? Share in the comments so we can chat! And check out LLs’s new cookbook, The Laura Lea Balanced Cookbook. It’s a great resource for those who like to add animal proteins, cheese, and meals that fit a family!

xx McKel

p.s. Don’t forget to enter to win a copy of The Laura Lea Balanced Cookbook below! Giveaway closes Monday 6/2.