Jan. 11. 2020
Habits & Routines
Written By:
McKel (Hill) Kooienga
McKel Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

Founder of Nutrition Stripped® and the Mindful Nutrition Method™

Ever since we got married last year, 1.11.19, I’ve had so many questions about how to plan for a wedding, the details of everything I wore, the food, the reception, and tips I learned.

I’m sharing our wedding story, how we met, and all the details in hopes that I can support you if you’re currently wedding planning or newly engaged! Scroll down to see our wedding video too!

Planning a wedding is so unique to you and your soon to be spouse, so keep that in mind whenever you’re reading resources about “how to plan a wedding”, including mine!

That one was the thing I kept in mind when we first got engaged — I found myself reading so many blogs and magazines about what to do and it was incredibly overwhelming, so I’m sharing exactly what we did to have a very relaxed, chill, and special wedding planning experience. If you haven’t checked out my previous wedding series posts, then check out The Best Wedding Diet, How To Have a Healthy Bachelorette Party and the Wedding Week Self-care Checklist.

How We Met

I’ll preface this story by sharing that I totally believe in soulmates, I’m a big advocate for manifesting what you want in life and designing a way to achieve your dreams, and most importantly how to call in and align your life with what you want and deserve. That also goes with relationships and partners! Back in 2015-2016, I created what I call a manifestation list where I wrote out everything I wanted and deserved in a partnership — from characteristics of this partner, passions they may have, and how I wanted to show up in a partnership. So much of my mindset was in the truth that I was enough on my own, that I didn’t need anyone to create happiness for me, my self-worth was and is really high, and the standards I set were also what I felt I deserved in life.

In short, I only wanted someone to come into my life if they were the person for me and I could see him like that, otherwise, I was so happy and at ease with being alone with Luna pup for however long it took. I’m often asked about this mindset and how to cultivate self-worth so please let me know if you’re interested in me talking more about this because it absolutely fuels the mentality around how you nourish your body, mind, and heart. 

I got a text one day from a close friend asking me if he could set me up on a blind date and without hesitation, I was like sure why not! Fast forward a few days of texting, we went on a date to meet for the first time and it all happened like that — so quick and so strong. All my friends and family know how I’m like and I’m not one to jump into anything nor am I one to settle and within two dates, I immediately knew Jesse was the person I wanted to spend my entire life with and explore all the chapters of life with.

We moved in as a little family of three (Luna pup) after six months of dating, then bought our first home together after a year, and a year and a half after our first date Jesse popped the question on New Year’s Eve in the heart of our home, the kitchen.  We got married on January 11, 2019, and now are in the process of building our dream home out in nature similar to how Jesse grew up (come follow our journey! @thenatureelement).

Life is such a whirlwind and it’s so beautiful to be present in the moment enough to soak it up and enjoy. I’ve learned so much about not only relationships, but marriage, and I learned the most while planning for our wedding. So many things come up when planning a wedding and many of them have nothing to do with the logistics of the wedding itself, but the relationships, family, and juggling your own needs with others.

This leads me to why we chose to have an intimate no-fuss wedding.

Why We Chose A Small Wedding

We chose to have a very small wedding to keep it simple.

We adore all our friends, extended family members, and community but for our wedding, it was getting to be a bit much for us personally — our wedding could’ve easily been in the 200’s! We wanted to keep our wedding intimate so we could spend this special time with our immediate family, create space for meaningful conversations, dancing, but more importantly, so Jesse and I could enjoy each other.

We’ve been to so many weddings with over 100 guests where the bride and groom spend the entire night just greeting people, then the night slips away and the couple have barely been able to dance and spend alone time together to soak up all the fruits of their labor in organizing the wedding and getting everyone together. 

We chose this because it just felt so right in our hearts to do and our families were fully supportive of going that route.

On the logistical front, planning a wedding for 15-20 people still required organization and, but it was something that I could personally manage mostly by myself until the weekend of when our day of wedding planning hopped in.

My Top 5 Tips For Planning A Wedding

1. Get crystal clear on the vision and the vibe.

Establish your vision with your wedding from the aesthetic to the experience. Having this firm vision in mind will keep you from going off the path while planning and while you may have a lot of opinions from family, planners, and friends. I had a Pinterest board where I gathered images, vibes, colors, and moods of how I wanted our ceremony and the experience to feel and look. This helped so much when finalizing all the details and picking florals, accessories, etc. that kept in line with the original vision — it can be so easy to get thrown off with so many options shared with you.

2. What are your unique elements?

Having a few or many like we did, non-traditional elements to your wedding that completely feel like you is what makes your wedding, your wedding! We had our wedding in a greenhouse in the winter because we both love nature and envisioned getting married in the winter.

We had special moments of citrus fruits in the fountain, Indian food at our reception, a gluten-free wedding cake, Luna in the wedding party photos, my family singing and playing guitar during the ceremony, meditation during the ceremony, and Jesse’s father who officiated the wedding.

3. Delegate and DIY.

Establishing what things you can delegate and what things you can easily do yourself is key! For example, I hired a day of a wedding planner because I’m incredibly organized and very efficient so I felt more than capable of doing all of the wedding planning up to the day of.

I also designed all our stationery because the design is in my wheelhouse and it was really fun to do. We delegated florals, rentals, food, video, and photo to the experts so we had peace of mind knowing all of that was taken care of. In a nutshell, get a day of wedding coordinator or planner if you’re hosting a larger wedding, they’re so amazing at what they do!

4. Future thinking.

Think about how you want to feel after your wedding — when you reflect on your big day what are the moments you most want to remember? Maybe it’s your first dance, your dances with your parents, cutting the cake, dancing with friends, etc. Whatever those big moments that stand out for you, make sure those are top of mind when you’re planning your big day — make sure they are a top priority in the schedule so that when the day is over, you’ll have those moments and memories.

5. Set a budget and stick to it.

Do you know what it’s like when you go grocery shopping while hungry? You walk away with so many things you didn’t really need. Same with wedding planning! It’s so easy to get caught up in adding things here or there and then your initial vision and budget might be off alignment.

Jesse and I both had strong feelings about not spending a lot of money on our wedding because we wanted to save or put those resources towards other things we wanted to accomplish in life such as building our home and we did! Again, everyone is so different especially if there are family members contributing to the wedding or if that’s simply where you want to put resources, just listen in to your gut and what you and your spouse want to do and go with that.

A Wedding Isn’t Complete Without A Trip To The ER?

Just 3 days before the big day, and my first day off work so I could relax and prepare for the big day, I was chatting with my mom about last-minute details when I got a few back-to-back phone calls from Jesse’s brother. I immediately knew something was wrong. Jesse had an accident moving a 1500 pound rose quartz art sculpture for his father’s business, which landed on his foot putting him in the ER.

Talk about pre-wedding stress, anxiety, and panic mode! For Jesse who was in shock, I was cool, calm, and collected on the outside because I’m actually pretty great under extreme circumstances, but the second I had a moment alone I completely caved and allowed myself to feel the anxiety, the panic, but also the gratitude that it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been. I look back at that time around our wedding and despite having a very low-key and low-stress wedding experience, I was undergoing so much stress with work with tying up loose ends with some huge projects — that wasn’t the best example of my time management or setting boundaries but I learned so much from that experience that I’m grateful.

Luckily with crutches, lots of love from our families, and good spirits, the wedding day went on without a hiccup. Fast forward to the present day, we have such a great wedding story to share haha! 

The Day Of

While Jesse was with his brother Sascha getting ready for the day, I got ready at home with my sister-in-law Katya who did my hair and makeup with my friend Jana, it was so special and pretty chill. We had champagne, veggies and hummus, and gummy bears (it’s my go-to sweet treat). 

Our niece Saschenka was our flower girl and she was so perfect! She and I had a special little moment before I walked down the aisle with my dad to our violinist playing Bluebird by Alexis Ffrrench. Jesse’s father William was our officiant and he weaved in poems by Pablo Neruda into the ceremony along with stories of Jesse and I which was so special to hear him share.

The space alone was calming and we were surrounded by nature — very aligned with Jesse and I. But to add another extra layer of peace and calm to the wedding, William shared a guided meditation for us and the wedding party — it felt so right to have something grounding and connecting us all. Before the exchange of vows, my dad Joe, brother Josh, and sister-in-law Cristina sung and played acoustic guitar to one of our favorite songs, Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen.

We walked out of the ceremony to My Winding Wheel by Ryan Adams played on the violin, taking wedding photos with the family, followed by going to an intimate reception at Mayker Creative filled with our favorite Indian food, a gluten-free German Chocolate wedding cake, and champagne to celebrate on the dance floor.

We had our first dance to Something by The Beatles and danced the night away with their family, crutches in all!

The Wedding Details

Wedding gown

My wedding gown was designed by Liz Martinez Bridal from BHLDN and it was my dream gown! I had a BHLDN showroom appointment with my brother and sister-in-law in New York and instantly fell in love with the gown after trying on a few I saw on their website first. We had such a fun time trying on dresses, I highly recommend this activity as a bride to be!

As soon as I tried it on I knew it was made for me — long, flowy, blush and ivory tones, lace, see-through on the sides that showed off my first (and favorite) tattoo of a feather I sketched in my early twenties after a really rough time in my life. It was a small visual reminder of all the chapters of life I’ve walked through already, and the new ones before me. I also got my shoes and hair accessories from BHLDN. I loved everything about their gowns, the process, and accessories so I highly recommend it! I’ve even gone back to them for party gowns as a guest to weddings.


I chose Catbird earrings, a Pascale Monvoisin navy shell necklace, and Zoey Lev charm locket necklace with J and M initials, all were so special and I wear them in my day to day life. Our wedding bands and my engagement ring were custom from Consider Bridal who is based in Nashville, but has an online shop for everyone around the world — highly recommend her amazing rings and jewelry and the customer care is incredible! 

Rentals and florals

Our color palette was very calming and focused on nature and the elements of greens from the greenhouse with pops of champagne, white, ivory, and blush to play off the color tones of the wedding gown. All rentals and florals were done by Mayker Creative and I couldn’t recommend their services more, they were incredible! They also recommended a fantastic day of wedding planner, Brandy Lester, for us that day as well.


The wedding venue was at Long Hollow Gardens in TN. It was a lush greenhouse featuring dangling vines over the ceremony alter, gorgeous champagne and blush-toned florals, all placed organically amongst white twinkling candlelight votives. From fruits displayed by the champagne bar and sliced citrus in the fountain, there were small details of the theme of abundance and nourishment. They have two event rooms and typically they host weddings in a gorgeous event space overlooking a vineyard, but I threw them a curveball and asked if we could just use their gorgeous greenhouse space as our setting. They were so accommodating and incredible to work with!


Food plays such a big role in our lives — not only in what I do each day with Nutrition Stripped (and now Jesse too!), but also our love and enjoyment of trying new dishes, eating food, and cooking. We know we had to make the food component so special and unique to us, yet very cozy, casual like we were sharing a meal with our family at home.

We chose our favorite Indian food restaurant here in Nashville, Bombay, which was also one of our early date spots that we visit frequently. The food had such sentimental value and experience to it, that it was our way of sharing with our families and they loved the warming meal on a cold night.

Our wedding cake was a delicious german chocolate cake which was my late grandfather’s favorite dessert, one that inspired the same recipe in the Nutrition Stripped Cookbook. The wedding cake was by Baked on 8th (gluten-free and dairy-free).

Photography and Video

Photography was done by Tec Petaja. Videography was done by Jessica Steddom. They’re both so creative and incredible at what they do.


After we got our photos, we put them all in a stunning coffee table book so we could flip through the pages and relive that day over and over again. There are so many choices to do this online, but Artifact Uprising is hands down my favorite with all the customization of the page layouts, the cover, and the quality of the product. I reached out to them to get a discount code for any of you who are getting your pictures printed soon and they graciously are giving you all 20% off a photo album using the code MCKEL20.

The One Question To Answer!

My biggest piece of advice for brides to be is to ask yourself this question: What do you truly need, want, and desire from this one day, from this moment?

There’s so much pressure put on brides to look a certain way, feel a certain way, spend a certain amount of money or just follow what a traditional wedding looks like. Go with what you uniquely want and what represents you well and as a couple!

After all, this day is about you and your partner, not about anyone else’s wants or wishes. Also, have a little fun doing things that don’t feel traditional, we had meditation in the ceremony which felt magical and very aligned with who we are and Indian food regardless of people telling us that was a unique idea. We went with it and are so happy we did what felt right for us! 

Whew, that was a long one! I hope it was entertaining, insightful, or you enjoyed it. Let me know if you’d like me to write more personal-style posts like this, I’m always excited to hear what you’d like to see. xx M