Stanford nutritionist works to ensure high performance in the classroom and beyond

Stanford Dining is committed to offering students healthy, wholesome, farm fresh, made-from-scratch meals prepared by award-winning chefs. Faculty and staff who buy meal plans can reap the benefits of the university's nutrition initiatives and enjoy the same delicious food in eight student dining halls.

Mike Abbott Elaine Magee portrait

Stanford nutritionist Elaine Magee's motto: Healthy food isn't going to do anyone any good if no one is eating it - it has to taste great.

One of Elaine Magee's "healthy eating mottos" is "Healthy food isn't going to do anyone any good if no one is eating it – it has to taste great." A registered dietitian with 25 years' experience and a best-selling nutrition writer, Magee is Stanford's first wellness and performance nutritionist for Stanford Dining, a division of Residential and Dining Enterprises (R&DE). On staff since 2010, she counsels students and student athletes, and consults with the Athletics Department.

Stanford Report recently posed a few questions to Magee:

What do you do to ensure that healthy food tastes good for Stanford students?

We have such an interesting and wonderful group of students here at Stanford with a wide spectrum of food preferences and needs. Our culinary team and staff do a great job of serving wholesome and healthful foods in as many menus and dining venues as possible. My role is to be available to the culinary team and to help draw attention to these awesome healthful choices through signage in the dining halls, postings on Stanford Dining Facebook page, and articles I write in the tabletop newsletters that come out biweekly in the dining halls.

What is a wellness and performance nutritionist?

As a position title, it is pretty unique, so I can only describe what it signifies here at Stanford. This position was created to help develop a new Performance Dining Program for R&DE in partnership with Stanford Athletics, Stanford School of Medicine and the Culinary Institute of America. Designed to help all students on the Stanford Dining meal plan perform at their mental and physical peak, the program consists of six main categories: brain performance, sports performance, enhanced immunity, anti-inflammatory components, food synergy and antioxidants.

The Performance Dining idea is the result of a 2011 collaboration between Brandon Marcello, director of sports performance at Stanford Athletics; Shirley Everett, senior associate vice provost of R&DE; and Eric Montell, executive director of Stanford Dining.

Since then, the program has expanded. It now includes training table meals for athletes, allergen awareness, student events and seminars, R&DE employee wellness events, and training for R&DE staff on nutrition and allergens topics. Our team partners with Eric Stein and his BeWell@Stanford team to support many Stanford Wellness events.


What role did the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) play in the development of the Performance Dining Program? Is the CIA still involved?

The CIA helped with menu and recipe development, and provided access to the culinary expertise of the CIA's staff of certified master chefs. The CIA, as well as Athletics and the School of Medicine, continues to be involved in the evolution of the program.

What might faculty and staff look forward to if they come to one of the student dining halls for a meal?

Wellness is a core value of R&DE. It is our hope that, over time, we can help everyone in the university community develop healthy eating habits to last a lifetime.

There are eight dining halls from which staff and faculty can choose to enjoy healthy, sustainable, made-from-scratch meals prepared by award-winning chefs. The staff and faculty meal plan makes it a great value. In addition, since R&DE is a university department, the money spent goes back to the Farm.

Arrillaga Family Dining Commons is known for offering Performance Dining. Ricker Dining is peanut sensitive. Stern Dining offers Cardinal Sage, a Mexican-Latin American station. Wilbur Dining has Star Ginger, a Southeast Asian station. Each dining hall offers options and accommodates other food preferences and requirements for a diverse population, from halal offerings to vegetarian choices.


How did you become a nutritionist?

I was a dancer who performed in musicals growing up, and this got me interested in the human body and how it worked. I took anatomy and physiology as a senior in high school, and decided I was going to become a nutrition writer and work with professional athletes. This was at a time when the only job for dietitians was in hospitals. I always saw myself taking nutrition in a new direction.

I remember how I liked to experiment in the kitchen as a child. Money was always an issue so I had to get real creative when fixing meals.

I earned a bachelor's degree in nutrition from San Jose State University, and a master's degree in public health nutrition from the University of California-Berkeley.

My career has blended all of my interests and loves. I have been so lucky.


What part of your job is the most fun?

To be honest, so much about this job is fun for me, but if I had to choose one aspect I would say it is working with the training table athletes through the Performance Dining program. I feel so fortunate to be able to cross paths with these special young people. Getting to know some of them, helping them with nutrition and food questions, creating smoothie and performance recipes for them, and then seeing them play their sport – well, that's the icing on the cake for me.


What did you do before coming to Stanford?

Before coming to Stanford, I mainly worked as a nutrition writer and consultant while raising two daughters, who are now in college. I wrote the syndicated column The Recipe Doctor for 10 years and was a nutrition expert for WebMD, a health information website, and Nob Hill Supermarkets. I am the author of 25 books on nutrition and healthy cooking, including Tell Me What to Eat If I Have Diabetes: Nutrition You Can Live With, my best-selling book, which will be released in January in a 15th anniversary edition. I also have published hundreds of articles and recipes for national magazines.